Too Many Tools

June 12, 2011

“Go where the conversations are.”
– Every PR and marketing person worthy of his/her job

There are things that I want to be able to communicate through my personal social media presence. For some time, I was desperate to grow the “social media brand’ that was “dtearl.” I use it across Twitter, Facebook, my email account and a host of other social tools. With more job security and greater devotion to my school work and job work, upping my Twitter followers and trying to connect with more people feels less critical.

Fewer people are now reading my blog, I tweet far less, and I hardly post on Facebook anymore. I check LinkedIn once a month to write requested recommendations and approve new friends. That isn’t to say I don’t have anything to say, but I’ve become comfortable with how I’m saying it and who I’m saying it to. My desperation for online attention is replaced by pushing a brand that I promote in my job. I tend to it on nights, weekends, almost every waking moment.

Both for my job and for my own personal amusement, I am trying to stay up on what is happening in social media and social tools. I also want to see how it fits my needs.

That’s why I’m signed up on Tumblr now. I’m certainly not an early-adopter, but I feel like I have virtually no choice – it’s growing faster almost anything on the web right now.

I’ve regularly checked Tumblrs for months, probably because nothing is better suited for generating memes. It’s multi-media friendly, it’s easily shared among users, and it’s easily maintained. I’m there now, at, surprise surprise, dtearl, and I hardly know what to do with it.

For long form writings, reviews and links, I use this blog. For sharing videos and other content that entertain and amuse, and to keep in touch with friends of a purely social nature, I use Facebook. For sharing non sequitur thoughts, links, following the news, and following people who I’ve found based on similar professional and academic interests or niche passions, I tweet. I keep half an eye on last.fm, quora and flickr too.

It is entirely logical, if not critical, to build your social media presence around your needs, not the other way around. Yet, new social media tools are a lot like sex, I think. Consider:

“Ugh, I haven’t had (sex/time to check my Facebook/access to Twitter) in (length of time that is supposed to sound long but is really bragging).”
“You did just fine without it for (length time from birth until estimated first exposure based on coolness) years.”
“Yeah [sigh], but now I know what I was missing.”
[Eyes roll, return to drink/plate/own computer screen]

You don’t know that you need it until you’re exposed to it, and then it becomes integrated into your life. Sure, I could write letters, read a newspaper, keep a journal, make phone calls, and turn on the radio, but I feel like I don’t know how I would keep in touch with family in friends, get the news, entertain myself or share my thoughts on things.

Here’s the thing. For the first time trying a new social media tool, I’m not sure what it’s giving me that I don’t already have. Yeah, everybody’s doing it right now, but why? I’m finding myself unenthusiastic about joining the crowd in a digital social space. I might sound like people who argued that joining Facebook was unnecessary when Myspace and Friendster were all you needed, but with the tools already available, aren’t we reinventing the wheel?

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An Ideal World (On Screen)

February 4, 2009

 

James Glassman at the Virtual Newsroom of the American University at Cairo

James Glassman at the Virtual Newsroom of the American University at Cairo

 

 

Today, I took a look at Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds today, written by Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts of Dancing Ink Productions for the Carnegie Council. Their article was the result of a year-long study analyzing the role that Second Life can play in the realm of Public Diplomacy.

Much has been made of James Glassman’s Second Life discussion (at least by him and not so much by the media, I’ve noted) as a way of engaging foreign audiences and presenting a new perspective on the United States. At the time, I neverr bought into it, noting that it was things like Facebook and Myspace that had a larger share of digital audiences. Turns out, that may have been a bit of ethnocentrism on my part. According to Wagner James Au, who maintains the “New World Notes” blog on the Second Life “metaverse,” the number of consistent users could be all over the place this year:

Some think the user growth plateau of 500K will continue, or even decline into outright loss; others see the usage base growing even past a million.  Here’s two data points to consider:Sales of laptop PCs now greatly exceed sales of desktop computers, which are in steep decline.  (And since laptops aren’t usually sold with robust 3D graphics power, which Second Life requires, the potential market will shrink.)  On the other side, tech insiders believe the incoming Obama administration will earmark billions to expand broadband penetration in the US. (Which will also grow the potential market for SL.)  How will that change the user base for the metaverse?

The role that second life plays worldwide is evidently not something that many Americans truly understand. (I should take moment to give Professor Bruce Gregory at George Washington’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former head of the Public Diplomacy Institute a bit of credit here, considering he lectured about Second Life and I thought he was out of his mind.) However, the user base is global, diverse, and open-minded. The use of avatars, alter-egos that allow a person to create their own identity and reality is more than just a method of escapisim. It allows people to have conversations with people they would otherwise not be able to speak to, ask questions that they would otherwise be ashamed of discussing, and to learn directly from the experiences of individual citizens instead of relying upon the words of information gatekeepers of certain motives.

Returning to Glassman and his consistent discussion of “Public Diplomacy 2.0” (referred to by King and Fouts as “digital diplomacy”), there is a unique opportunity for the democritization of information through Second Life and many other social networking platforms. Glassman’s interviewers did not need a press pass or a security screening, and were able to ask him about the mission and values of the United States. Now, it’s coverage in media worldwide is scant, and it appears to have been organized at least in part by the authors of the paper I’m discussing, so it’s important to be mindful of motives and potential exaggerations.

Anyway, asking Ambassador Glassman questions as a representative of the United States Government can only go so far. What is most important is the opportunity to explore the world as foreign publics see it, and speak to them and create new perspectives. It is nearly impossible to speak to people in the real world like this logistically, and there are people on both American and Middle Eastern sides who would want to serve as a barrier to this kind of direct contact. Second Life serves instead as perhaps the safest, most personal, and most impactful (you can even be asked to take your shoes off in a user’s mosque, King and Fouts note) way of understanding the world that we can only see on paper or on screen. Pixels may in fact be the best view we have.

Please feel absolutely free ot share your own Second Life experiences and avatars. I think I might create mine tomorrow.


Media As Global Diplomat

February 4, 2009

Today, the Newseum hosted a remarkable day of panels and discussion on the “Media as Global Diplomat.” It was organized by the United States Institute of Peace, and contained some highly qualified men and women representing non-profit charitable organizations, the mainstream media (and Al Jazeera), and government. Major comments were delivered by Ambassador James Glassman, whose “valedictory address” at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs I will review later in the week. It’s been some time since he gave his speech, but it still remains important to consider.

I was unable to attend the event, but followed it as closely as I could via the audio from the web cast, and through the Twitter feed. I can’t speak to the keynote address or to the film that was shown, but I will take a few minutes to discuss the media panel, and the general understanding of what media can do as a global diplomat.

I had the opportunity to listen in on a panel that discussed the way in which global media can and does serve as an envoy on behalf of the United States. Keep in mind that to be a diplomat does not necessarily mean that a certain party is engaging in behavior that will improve an audience’s opinion of the people that he/she represents. Instead, they need only shape impressions and serve as a resource for developing an opinion.

Steve Sanford, who attended the conference and wrote a useful recap, notes that moderator Ted Koppel doesn’t necessarily share that opinion of the media’s role as global diplomat:

Ted Koppel, ever the devil’s advocate, prodded the panel into motion by proffering his own definition: that public diplomacy is “an oxymoron.” He said that publics are involved in many things, but “diplomacy” is never one of them. This yielded up a variety of working definitions of PD from the panel.

Koppel regularly noted a “cynic’s” definition of media, citing that the media cared almost exclusively about revenue streams and profits rather than acting on behalf of the United States. However, every time that a foreigner is looking at http://www.nytimes.com, watching American movies at home, or reading someone else’s magazine, they are acting as a very public diplomat.

With that understood, let us give credit to the representative from Viacom, who noted the importance and impact of MTV around the world. Rather than exporting shows like The Hills abroad, MTV worldwide should be commended  for its cultivation and celebration of artists in the regions that they broadcast. This respect and development of local talent illustrates an American willingness to legitimize global music and culture. Koppel can call it the pursuit of profit, and accountants can call it a good business model, but good business and good diplomacy do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Discussion of the Arab media model, specifically in television, reflect the seemingly impossible challenge of private corporations playing a significant role in the Middle East. Middle Eastern media were described as the “vanity projects” of wealthy businessmen, hemorrhaging money and existing for the sake of existing. In a capitalist media model, there is no clear reason to attempt to make major inroads in the medium of television. 

Public television (in more of BBC and PBS model than perhaps the Al Hurra model) may be the only way to have media serve as a global diplomat on the Arab television. If that’s the case, we’re going to have to get better.

From my observations, little discussion was really made of the “New” media. It seems evident that the digital divide is impacting Americans domestically and abroad, and with the multitude of opportunities to reach audiences, much of private media is scratching its head and wondering how it should move forward, especially in an environment where it is so hard to remain viable at home. Of course, watching Bam Margera fly a kite attached to anal beads on Jackass, it might be better off that American media stays out of the diplomacy game.

If you did attend the event, please be sure to add comments, or post links to your twitter feeds and blogs to give readers a better sense of what happened. I’ll update this post with links as I find them.


How to Tweet (Twitter? Twit?)

January 31, 2009

 

It’s my hope that I’ve somehow convinced you to become a part of Twitter. Now, you’ve got to develop followers and figure out who to follow. Mark Drapeau, someone who has beocme a leading authority on social media in government and society (and someone who seems to be able to go to the coolest events, impact branding, and drink with very cool people with great frequency), has his own How-To guide called “How to Win Friends and Twinfluence People.” Much of it is spot on, and you can follow that yourself.

How do you get involved in the conversation?

First, don’t be shy. You’ve either joined Twitter to follow your friends (which ought to be easy), or because you want to put yourself out there in an ongoing, fast-paced conversation about what’s happening now and what’s happening next. Follow people, send them @replies. Show them you’re fascinated by what you have to say, that you want to be part of the dialogue. It’s surprisingly easy to get involved.

Second, find the conversation: The People Search function of Twitter can be frustrating, and I’ve found that most Twitter novices I know don’t really have a firm grasp of the Tweet search at the bottom of the page. USE IT! Search terms that fascinate you. For me, it was “Mets,” for the New York Mets, “GWU,” “GW,” and “Colonials” for news about my alma mater, and “public diplomacy,” for well, duh. See what people are talking about, and check out their feeds. Do they seem interesting? Follow them.

Here’s an example of people discussing someone very much in the news these days – Rush Limbaugh:

 

The world discussing Rush Limbaugh.

The world discussing Rush Limbaugh.

You can make yourself a part of the conversation with your own @Reply to someone. Try following them too. They’ll probably have more to say that you’ll like.

 

Third, start the conversation yourself: It’s nice to relay people’s thoughts to your friends using the RT @user function, shows you respect what others have to say, but find relevant things to say. This isn’t just an AIM or Facebook status, this is a microblog. Don’t get me wrong, I tend to post mundane things that are interesting to few others from time to time, but I work hard to try to prod other people to offer their opinions. Next thing you know, you’ve got a core group of people, many you have likely never met, exchanging ideas and exposing one another to all sorts of new things and challenging what you think.

Finally, remember that it is a conversation. Have you posted to your blog? Great, but Twitter isn’t an RSS feed. Only the New York Times (and maybe a few others) can get away with treating Twitter as a one-way system of communicating. Expect to interact – that’s why we’re here. The use of hashtags (#) in front of a certain topic often allow people to discuss one thing and search it. You’ll see it for events, like the Consumer Electonics Show (#CES), Conservatives (#tcot) and Liberals (#topprog) are a way for you to track a conversation on a certain topic.

Tips on Tweets (this is only based on my pet peeves and likes):

– Offer resources, links, anything that can be considered interesting.

– Don’t go crazy with the punctuation. I mean you, Britney Spears (and all your huge entourage of people who think that we all should care)

– Don’t be TOO personal all the time. People are here for conversation, and it’s awkward to be following you while you offer web-kisses to your ultra-famous wife (or anyone you happen to be calling “baby.”

– I’m guilty of this too, but tweet often, but not all in one shot. A few tweets a day is cool, but unless you’re trying to liveblog something awesome, consider dividing it up some time. We don’t want you taking up our entire feed. The New York Times is ALWAYS guilty of this.

I’ll provide some tips on who you can follow to make your experience more awesome soon.


Why Twitter?

January 30, 2009

If you know me, you know that I cannot stop talking about Twitter these days. No really, I think I might be hemorrhaging friends because of my inability to talk about anything tangible, but those brave few who I can convince to get on the bandwagon, I think they begin to understand.
What actually IS Twitter? Well, for the 99.9% of the country under the age of 30 (and probably, [disturbingly?] the 50% of those above 40 and everything in between), your feed kind of like a running facebook status. You can look at an individual feed (like mine), or your home page, which will aggregate the “tweets” of those you choose to follow in chronological order.

If you’re able to create a solid list of people, organizations, and automated programs to “follow,” you’ve got yourself a great way to keep track of your friends and keep them posted on your life, a feed that allows you to examine when your favorite bloggers or media outlets are updating their sites, and the chance to meet people with similar interests and aspirations. Find a tweetup, and you might make yourself some real-life friends.
Maybe calling it a bandwagon is giving Twitter too much credit. It’s still a rather small niche, but it’s growing, and will continue to, at least for a time.
Sign up now. Your guide to Twitter will come tomorrow.