Be the Brand: Required Involvement in Social Media – Part 1

Based on our presentation at MIT: Media in Transition 7

There’s been much written about the professional risk of social media use for individuals and for businesses; in media reports as well as a recent National Labor Relations Board decision regarding employees use of Facebook to complain about a supervisor

But what happens when employees are encouraged (or required by the terms of employment) to publicly represent a company or brand through personal use of social media?

Several years ago, many companies were skittish about employee use of blogs and other social networking tools. More recently, however, some brands are increasingly creating “official” company social media profiles as well as establishing social media policies to encourage employees to unofficially represent a company via social media during the work day and off-hours, with the understanding that transparency and personal contact are widely seen as important to success in social media communication and marketing. This article discusses issues involving intellectual property, privacy, and the bounds of employment within personal and professional social media use.

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Bin Laden, Twitter and the News: Now What?

At this point the role of Twitter in spreading the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death is hardly news, and I certainly won’t rehash all the breathless proclamations of Twitter as the “new CNN” but here’s a run down of the major points

Mashable: Bin Laden’s Death Sparks Record 12.4 Million Tweets Per Hour [STATS]

Twitter has released updated statistics on the usage of its platform last night. Previously, the social media company reported that more than 4,000 tweets were sent per second during the beginning and the end of Obama’s speech. It now says the real number of tweets was about 25% higher.

Mashable: One Twitter User Reports Live From Osama Bin Laden Raid

Without knowing what he was doing, Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual, has more or less just live-tweeted the raid in which terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday.

The IT consultant resides in Abbottabad, the town where bin Laden was found and killed by a U.S. military operation.

Athar first posted about events surrounding the raid 10 hours before the publication of this article, writing, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” He didn’t realize that he’d been tweeting about a top-secret attempt to kill an internationally wanted terrorist until nine hours later.

The use of Twitter to quickly disseminate the Bin Laden story is definitely relevant, and should be used as an example for those who still dismiss Twitter or social media in general as a place for people to talk about what they ate for lunch.

The fact is, social media did scoop TV and print media in this case, and for some, it was the only source of information on this event. But now what? Will the Bin Laden Effect mean anything for how news organizations in general use Twitter? I hope so, for the most part many major news organizations have been grudging adopters of social media tools, and it’s been individual journalists who have really taken advantage of Twitter’s speed and brevity.  But rather than looking at social media as as a competitor or glorified news feed, i am hoping this event  (particularly the case of @reallyvirtual) will prompt more major news organizations start to integrate Twitter intentfully as a tool for reporting and news curation (a la Andy Carvin from NPR)

Any examples of smaller news organizations that are already doing this? I’d love to hear more about it.

When Twitter becomes TV:the final hours of @mayoremanuel

Last night a bunch of folks of Twitter said tearful good byes to Chicago’s next mayor. Kinda.

@mayoremanuel was the profane parody Twitter persona of the real mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. Kind of like Fake Gary Busey , @mayoremanuel was pretty much a running  Rahm Emanuel joke based around his foul-mouthed, larger than life persona. (“Your next motherfucking mayor. Get used to it assholes,” reads his bio)

In a few short months, the  anonymous Twitter account  attracted nearly 40,000 followers. The real Rahm was at the very least amused by the fake account and reportedly offered to donate $5,000 to a charity if the voice behind @mayoremanuel revealed him/herself (which he/she didn’t)  (UPDATE: on 2/28/2010 Columbia College professor and former Punk Planet publisher Dan Sinker revealed to The Atlantic that he was the voice behind @mayoremanuel)

On Tuesday, the same day the real-life Emanuel was elected mayor, @mayoremanuel revealed that he was not long for this world:

While the Fake Rahm tweets had always been great for a laugh, in the waning weeks of the mayoral election @mayoremanuel had started to take on a bit of a serial approach, with ongoing storylines and characters (loyal Carl the Intern, pet duck Quaxelrod, etc) As wonderfully documented (and annotated!) on Snarkmarket, the last few days of the @mayoremanuel story took on an almost mythic quality.

From Snarkmarket:

Yesterday… @MayorEmanuel outdid himself. He wrote an extended, meandering narrative of the day before the primary that took the whole parallel Rahm Emanuel thing to a different emotional, comic, cultural place entirely. It even features a great cameo by friend of the Snark Alexis Madrigal. The story is twisting, densely referential, far-ranging — and surprisingly, rather beautiful.

Definitely check out the storyfied version of the final @mayoremanuel tweets in the rest of the above post or if you have time and paper on your hands, download a 40 page PDF of all of @mayoremanuels tweets here.

I was one of thousands of Twitter fans who “watched” the last tweets of @mayoremanuel in real time – all the while begging him not to go, and retweeting profane eulogies from others. I realized that this was perhaps the first instance during my time on Twitter where there was a shared, mass public experience of watching a fictional story unfold on Twitter (not news, not a TV show)

It was very akin to watching a television program, only rather than collectively watching, say, the Grammys or America’s Next Top Model,  the action itself – the story itself – took place on Twitter. And it was entertaining. This kind of twitter-as-storytelling isn’t totally new. Fans have been using Twitter as a medium for fanfiction for some time now. In a way, @mayoremanuel was basically real-person fanfiction. But what intrigued me was the mass audience that this particular story attracted, and how similar the experience was to other “mass watching” experiences of TV and film.

As far as I know, the voice of @mayoremanuel has not yet been revealed, but regardless of whether we find out, he/she created something special. In the future, could Twitter be a channel for a form of original storytelling to a mass audience? Is it already happening and I just don’t know about it?

Music Criticism in a Social Media World

One of my go-to book purchases at the end of the year is the DeCapo Best Music Writing anthology. There’s no way for me to keep up with all the excellent music writing out there – in print and online – and I trust the editors of this anthology to clue me in on what I may have missed.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that more and more of the selections for the book have come from blogs – not just webzine-style blogs, either, but personal blogs. It’s a nice nod to all the underemployed professional music writers who continue to write on their own and also to fans and non-professional music writers who have a strong writing voice. One of the things I enjoy about the series is that it doesn’t privilege professional writers just because they have an official byline from a print publication behind their name, all are lauded for the strength of their writing, regardless of the publishing format.

But these days, even blogging seems a bit old-school and slow moving in an environment where music news routinely breaks and occurs on Twitter. (Of course, there are dangers to the format, as proven by the misinformation merry-go-round that surrounded R&B singer Teena Marie’s death in December.)

This past December, the Village Voice awarded the title of Music Critic of the Year to @discographies, an anonymous Twitter account that sums up the music careers of an artist within Twitter’s 140 characters of less format. Some traditionalists balked, but the recognition is valid. @discographies manages to sum up in 140 characters of less what some music writers can’t manage in a book, while staying witty and opinionated.

I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet finished all of DeCapo’s Best Music Writing 2010, yet I read @discographies daily, in addition to other music twitter feeds and blogs. As much as I respect and enjoy the craft of long form music writing, the quickly digestable online nuggets of music criticism are what I gravitate to more often these days. I don’t think that the rise of short-form music writing has to come at the expense of traditional music writing, in fact, I think there’s an opportunity for broader discussion and sharing among music fans and critics. The voice behind @discographies agrees, saying:

Music criticism is part of the lifeblood of Twitter: every second of every day, people are out there psychoanalyzing Kanye or raving about Cee-Lo or going to a show and tweeting “jeez, Malkmus looks bored tonight.”  I  think Twitter is a new kind of vessel for delivering content; maybe even a transformative one. And one of the nice things about it is its neutrality: it’s as well suited to music criticism as it is to sharing recipes or storytelling or the (allegedly) funny remarks that were (supposedly) uttered by someone’s dad.

The concept of crowd-sourced  music criticism/journalism really appeals to me. I’ve been on Twitter while some of my friends and acquaintances have been at the same concert. To follow their passionate, sometimes contradictory reports [“Amazing Baby is rocking the house tonight!”/”I hate everything about Amazing Baby] gives me the kind of “fan’s eye view” that a review from Greg Kot can’t re-create.  Twitter music criticism isn’t taking the place of print, but extending the life of that criticism farther and faster than previously imagined.

The Man Your Man Could Read Like: Old Spice, Isaiah Mustafa, and Libraries

If you have watched television since February, especially sports programming, then you have likely seen at least one of the Old Spice commercials, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, starring Isaiah Mustafa. The commercial has spawned many parodies — mostly focusing on the vocal style used, the quick cuts used, and shirtlessness.

But recently, Old Spice decided to take the campaign viral — and did so with a major splash. Over the course of  three days, Old Spice posted 180 short videos on YouTube. The vast majority of the videos directly responded to tweets  — and there was even a marriage proposal.

These are two of my favorites:

According to NPR (with an interesting overview of the phenomenon),

The YouTube videos managed to attract more online views in 24 hours than Susan Boyle and President Obama’s victory speech.

What this campaign effectively shows is that it is possible for a commercial entity to create a viral campaign — but it takes a great deal of planning and buy-in, “using a team of around 35 people working 12 hours a day for its three day duration.”

Seriously, this takes work — and letting customers or fans play an important role:

It’s all about customer participation.

“Another lesson from this successful program is the value of giving up some control, which happened at several different levels… A typical ad takes months to plan and execute … Consumers were asked for their input, then a team of social media experts, marketers, writers, videographers and actor Isaiah Mustafa were sequestered to produce over 150 different video responses over the course of two days.”

So what does this have to do with libraries? After the jump!

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When Cultures – and Subcultures – Collide on Twitter

The final game of the World Cup is tomorrow, an offline event that has the potential to shut down Twitter with the amount of online traffic it generates. Not that shutting down Twitter is much of a feat these days, considering how often I see the Fail Whale on a daily basis, but it’s still notable.

A few news stories have been published about the online impact of the World Cup. it’s especially interesting for fans in the U.S. Until recently soccer was primarily seen as a cult interest for sports fans in the United States, while it’s a way of life for fans pretty much everywhere else in the world. Due in part to the U.S. Soccer team’s decent performance in the competition this year, but also due to real time-global communications tools like Twitter, many United States sports fans actually participated in the global conversation about the World Cup. Anecdotally, I noticed some resentment among some U.S. Twitter users who stated their exasperation with the World Cup talk dominating Twitter conversation for the past month.

I noticed a similar pattern last year, and a couple of weeks ago, with the BET Awards, when for one Sunday evening, all of Twitter’s trending topics were dominated by hip-hop and R &B artists or other random musings about black popular culture. Last year’s BET awards discussion seemed to take some Twitter users by surprise and the resulting commentary turned nasty and at times racist. Since then the “news” of black Twitter users seems to have become more accepted, but there seems to always be a disruptive element whenever the “mainstream” of Twitter conversation (tech stuff, social media, Justin Bieber, celebrity death news) is temporarily silenced by unexpected conversation from a seemingly “niche” audience.

On a somewhat similar note, I remember being surprised (and delighted!) last year when briefly, the 10th anniversary of Nine Inch Nails “The Fragile” started trending on Twitter – seemingly organically, as in it was not a campaign of any sort. It was just something people wanted to talk about.

Of course, that is the curious power of a medium like Twitter, so driven by real-time conversation and offline events that people want to talk about. It’s not just the large, impactful, meaningful events that become part of the conversation, like the Iran elections, or the Gulf oil spill, but more mundane happenings, like a cable TV awards show, or the anniversary of an album, or whatever. Audiences – very different types of audiences, defined by behavior, nationality, fandom, age, you name it – use the tool to connect and talk about whatever is current and discussion-worthy, even if its not of universal interest.

These diverse conversations get little moments of awareness each day on Twitter, sometimes they take hold long enough in trending topics to be noticed by “outsiders” of the community having the conversation, which is when things get interesting. In the case of the World Cup it showed the potential for a truly global conversation to take place, and even bring “outliers” along for the ride. I think this is the headed toward being the standard now, understanding that the assumed audience of social media, and of Twitter specifically, is much more diverse than we are always aware of. As we see communications on Twitter allow for translation capability in the future (please?) hopefully we will see the opportunity and chaos of even more diverse conversation and community online

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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