My Favorite New Social Media Tool

When I first jumped into the social media realm, the amount of tools available to access the different networks overwhelmed me.

It’s no secret that within the interactive media world, most of the software and tools we use have about a dozen ways to do each particular task. Social media browsers are no different.

I’ve used only three extensively: Twhirl, TweetDeck and now HootSuite. I’ve tried several more.

Hootsuite stands alone as my favorite. Here’s why:

  • Accessible online. You can get to Hootsuite from anywhere by going to the home page and logging in. Instantly, you can tap into your account and social networks. No software needed.
  • Multiple social networks. You can reach all your favorite social media accounts with ease. I access the big ones from Hootsuite: Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
  • Tabbed Browsing. Some of the other social media browsers have this feature, but TweetDeck – my previous favorite – lacked it. I always disliked having to scroll over forever. You still may have to scroll in Hootsuite, depending on how many columns you use, but you can always resize your columns.
  • Stats anyone. Hootsuite grants access to a nice array of stats, just enough to gain an idea of how many folks are reading and clicking on your social media accounts.
  • Multiple control. If you’re engaging with social media communities for your job or company, Hootsuite makes it easy. Multiple people can control accounts, plus you can monitor keywords and more.

To learn more about HootSuite, watch this tutorial video.

The Print vs. New Media Debate

Newspapers have dominated the news’ lately.

And not for reporting the news, but for being the news. The industry continues to struggle amid declining ad revenues and dwindling audiences.

Last week Tech Crunch’s Erick Schonfeld posted an article about a conversation he had Marc Andreessen, the man who invented Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. In the post, Andreessen advises media companies to “burn the boats,” so to speak and abandon their print products.

Embrace the web. Fully. Before it’s too late and other information competitors have the media industry beat.

Today, Schonfeld wrote a follow-up post to his “Burn the Boats” article. In it, he compared media companies and some journalists to dinosaurs happily munching on plants (advertising) instead of evolving.

The two posts have generated a lot of conversation. And for good reason. The debate here is a lively one, and worth reading for anyone interested in how technology will continue to shape newspapers, and the type of storytelling they practice.

One commenter on the latest post said this:

“I looked around at the people I was sharing the train with.

To a person- everyone that looked to be 40+ was either reading a book, talking on their cell or reading a newspaper/magazine (or sleeping).

The under 40 crowd? Just like me – people were on their cells doing, I am assuming, exactly what I was doing: browsing the web, using facebook, whatever. The point is they WEREN’T reading newspapers.”

And there lies the real issue.

Yes, this is a money issue, but also an audience issue.

I would love to see old media take more chances. Burning the boat sounds so romantic. Fun, even. I’d bet it would spur innovation.

However, until the majority of the audience on that train starts using digital tools to consume news, the media will continue to have to walk the line between burning the boat and just bailing out the water in the sinking ship.

Could a New Media Education Mean Better Communication Online?

White Pickett Fence image

The common praise given to the Internet: anyone can express their voice to millions of potential users, readers and listeners.

Many children and teenagers have embraced this.

A recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says that as many as 73 percent of teens and 72 percent of young adults use social networking. That translates a huge number of people that are telling their stories online.

Your Story in Front of Millions

Millions of words and thoughts become digitized and available for anyone to read. But do teens and young adults realize the possible consequences of pumping out content.

In his book, The Future of Reputation, Daniel J. Solove recounts several stories about people who dealt with privacy issues after placing parts of their lives online. The book could serve as a wakeup call to anyone, not just teens and young adults.

Take this example, for instance, as reported by Wired in 2009. A college student ranted on her MySpace page about how she hated her hometown. The high school principal in town forwarded her diatribe to the local newspaper.

People read it and it caused an uproar. The family received death threats. The student’s daughter had to close down his business, one that he had run for 20 years.

A California court ruled that the student could not claim an invasion of privacy after her words were published in the newspaper without her permission. Essentially, what she wrote on MySpace had become public record.

Lead with Common Sense

One has to think this should have been common sense. MySpace is a website that can be accessed by anyone in the world, and unless the student’s profile was set to private, viewed by anyone.

I can’t help but think there’s a real need for a new media education for teens and young adults, and maybe even older adults who engage in blogging, social networking and other online activities.

So what are the most important areas worth teaching?

How about writing. The popular Copyblogger blog takes on writing for social media from a marketing standpoint, but anyone can apply some of the good writing and storytelling tips there.

And we can’t forget privacy. The non-profit organization, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a nice page about navigating the Internet safely.

These two areas seem to be the most important to me. If people write more clearly, there’s less of a chance of meaningless misunderstandings. And if they begin to understand how their privacy can be affected by the Internet, they’ll likely make fewer Internet-inspired mistakes.

All this could be the start of clearer personal stories on the web.

Image by Betacam.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the Internet and privacy issues.

7 Free Tools for Creating Multimedia Websites

Digital Typewriter Illustration

We all like free. Love it even.

And we value saving time much more, especially when building multimedia experiences. So here are a seven free tools that I’ve found indispensable:

  1. Kuler: Adobe’s color selection tool makes experimenting and picking colors for projects fun and easy.
  2. Firebug: Inspect and edit HTML in real time. Perfect for experimenting.
  3. W3 Schools: A site packed with great web development tutorials. Learning CSS was much easier with these at my disposal.
  4. Kirupa: I just recently discovered this site, chock full of resources for all things Flash.
  5. Twitter Lists: I am a big fan of Twitter Lists. Follow these two I made if you want insights from creative people and interactive media professionals.
  6. Smashing Magazine: The thing I enjoy most about Smashing Mag is that it always leads me to new and exciting things on the web.
  7. My Delicious: Want more links and resources from me. Check out my Delicious profile.

Image by Vierdrie.

Code and Design

You like interactive media.

Are you left brained or right brained?

If you’re right brained, you’re creative and will most likely make a good designer.

If you’re left brained, you’re analytical and will most likely make a great programmer.

But what if you could do both tasks in the world of interactive media?

There’s good reasons to, according to a post at Web Designer Depot.

I’ll add one more to the list: It’s fun to do both!

Does Google Help or Hurt Traditional Media?

Illustration with person "shhh-ing" and the words: Creativity in progress

Few tech companies roll off the tongue as easy as Google these days.

The two giant has earned their place in tech lore, thanks to visionary leaders, simple, but useful products and bold moves, among other factors. But does this behemoth of a company help or hurt traditional media?

No News Here

I suppose newspaper executives would argue yes – in a big way. After all, Google News has aggregated much of their content, and as they might say, stolen potential revenue.

Google executives have countered that search helps enhance newspaper content, and that the company has tried to help newspapers, but hasn’t found the perfect solution just yet.

Book publishers and authors have battled Google over its Books portal in the past, and that fight continues today – centered on eBooks. Much of the fight, like the battle with newspapers, has revolved around copyright issues.

The movie and television industry have also faced Google head on over the content it aggregates for search. To that end, the search giant has yanked movie and television shows off its video portal, YouTube.

And that plays into Google’s quest to better monetize YouTube, with the addition of movie rentals earlier this year. However, will that be enough to quiet down the movie studios?

No.

Always About Money

Because this isn’t about just copyright and content. It’s about money. Google has grown more and more since it went public in 2004.

After all, Google isn’t just a tech company – it’s in the advertising business. That’s how traditional media has always made its money. So there lies the conflict.

And it’s a good conflict.

Google has helped traditional media more than it has harmed it.

In the book, Googled by Ken Auletta, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says that many of the company’s ideas may never see the light of day if they always went through proper channels before innovating. For example, asking newspaper publishers if it’s OK that Google aggregate their content.

But the Real Currency Is?

Such is the price of innovation on the web history’s fastest developing medium of information.

Google will continue to push back on traditional media, effecting its content, the way it tells stories through news, movies, books and more and the way it makes money. That’s a good thing.

Google operates with one currency in mind: information. It has the information of millions of web users via searches, emails, chats and much more.

The products come free, but the cost comes forth in information.

That information leads to products that are more personal and choice-heavy.

Yes, consumers need to be wary of how their information is being used. And traditional media needs to be aware of just how much more personal a user’s experience is with Google products.

A balance here could guide users to a continued improved experience and direct old media to something it has only reacted to, instead of created: innovation.

Image by marganz.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about Google and the media issues surrounding the company.

How to Use Social Media to Tell Your Story

Avatars

The term social media has found its way into the buzzword dictionary of late.

It seems everyone is talking about it.

Google has even gotten into the game with its new Buzz, an add-on to Gmail.

There are dozens of posts and blogs dedicated to social media out there, so I hesitate to launch into too much of a how-to here. Mashable is one of favorite blogs on the topic.

But if you’re looking to tell your story, so to speak, through social media – here are three tips to make it easy. And guess what, these three tips tie closely into the first part of this series:

Your story must connect with its audience

That means knowing the users, visitors and customers you’re after. Look to similar sites and personalities in social media for tips and guidance. Listen before you start pushing out your story.

Good stories connect because of tension. People follow it because they want to know what happens next. So keep them craving surprise, but make sure that surprise isn’t completely unexpected.

Try contests. Mark Luckie of 10,000 Words is doing this on Twitter all week, giving away copies of his new book.

Hold weekly question and answer sessions. Allow your followers to have some control over your story. Maybe they select the next new product color?

These events offer expectations, but can yield something new. Be creative.

Create a character (or voice)

The Chicago Tribune created an online persona for its social media accounts, Colonel Tribune. You can too. Or simply engage in a creative way that is you being yourself or your company capturing its essence.

If your company values creativity, make sure that principle gets reflected in your social media accounts. Pictureframes.com, a company that caters to artists, photographers and creators of all kinds, has done this well. Their Twitter account and Facebook feed is full of great resources and thought-provoking posts. (Disclosure: I worked for them prior to going to grad school.)

Offer takeaways

No one likes to get to the end of a story and feel empty. Sure, you may not be able to do this in 140 characters, but make sure the content you’re linking to and/or posting has value. Your customers and followers will desert you if you fail in this regard.

Often, this translates into not just talking about yourself or what you’re selling. We are only interesting when point to why other people, places and things hold our interest.

So you see, social media represents just another way humankind does what we do best – tell stories.

Image courtesy of sxc.hu.

This post is the second part in a two-part series on social media and storytelling. Part one covered three things social media and storytelling have in common.

What You Can Learn About Web Design and Storytelling from eBay

Every website tells a story.

EBay Home Page image

Even online auction sites. Take eBay, one of the original online auction sites, and perhaps the most popular. It engages users in several different ways to draw them into the site and tell story behind the products available there.

It does this in six major ways:

  1. Multiple forms of navigation: eBay has multiple ways for users of its site to dive into the content. Categories, the Buy or Sell landing pages, Daily Deals, Stores and more. This choice of navigation is imperative. No user is alike, so when building complex Web sites, one must cater to all those in the potential audience. In eBay’s case, that’s anyone willing to buy something online.
  2. Clean, crisp headlines: “Free shipping on top picks” can certainly capture one’s attention, especially since free shipping promotions generally attract a lot of potential customers. However, they wouldn’t notice without the simple, clear copy and the color change that helps it stand out.
  3. Photos: Let’s face it. We are a visual society. Crisp copy is great, but no one will ever look at it without some striking images. If you’re a customer, looking to buy something on eBay, browsing that Free Shipping module becomes an exercise in bouncing from photo to photo, not word to word. If you see a photo that interests you, you then connect the dots via the copy.
  4. Call to Action: One sees three major calls to action on the page: Shop Now, Register and Sign In. One could argue four, since the ad for the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes has such a dark background that it stands out against the white background on the rest of the site. Without these, customers may never interact with a site.
  5. Featured Content: And speaking of the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes ad, that’s featured content. They’re attempting to drive people to that particular product, and it works well, as mentioned, because of the color.
  6. Neighborhoods: Let’s say you jump into the site via the traditional route of clicking one of the categories on the far left. I clicked video games. Once there, you can click into Neighborhoods on the right of the page. I explored the Video Games neighborhood. Here’s where eBay is most interactive, especially for those who never intend to buy a product. These communities have conversations, product information and reviews. It’s a growing, ever-changing resource that can engage and attract traffic daily.

Ebay’s Neighborhoods hold the most power in terms of interactive features. Tons of content lives there, much of it not created by eBay staff, which is great from a business standpoint.

What’s the story here?

We sell anything to everyone.

Not very inspiring. That’s a dilemma for any retail site with a wide customer base.

I wanted to see if anyone could do it better.

Etsy does.

The site isn’t a traditional auction site, instead simply offering things for sale. However, Etsy has many similarities to eBay, including a major one: it empowers users to sell their products.

With a quick glance of the site its better for a few reasons:

  • The design is cleaner and more pleasing. The photos are more varied in composition, size and color. The colors are bold, but muted.
  • Its featured content relies on unique illustrations for images (something no doubt important and endearing to its audience).
  • It has a chance for customers to vote (interact) on something at the top of the page.
  • It has a featured sellers story, to help engage customers with story.
  • Plus, it has all those things that eBay does.

The story here? We’re like you, and we happen to sell cool, unique stuff we bet you’ll like.

Granted, each site caters to different needs and customers, but if they sold exactly the same products – which site would you buy from?

The story is clear.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management and Economics about the interactivity of online auction sites.

Do People Really Care About Journalism’s Struggles?

Are they really seeing what has happened?

“In a big news year, most media continued to see audiences shrink.”

This according to The State of the News Media 2009 report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Nothing new there.

Googly Eyes image

Wait. That can’t be right.

Think about that statement. In 2009, the media covered some of the biggest stories in recent times. These include the near second coming of The Great Depression, two American-led wars overseas and the election of the first black president in history.

What gives? People should be flocking the news. Their world has changed, is changing and continues to morph into something completely different and new.

Do people really care about journalism’s struggles?

Nope. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t or don’t want to care.

But why don’t they?

There are three major reasons:

1. The structure of the media. Media critic and scholar Robert McChesney states in his book, The Political Economy of Media, three major reasons for a lack of debate over media structure. One of them is the fact that corporate media have successfully promoted the idea that the status quo is the “only rational media structure for a democratic and freedom-loving society. This holds true to some extent. People may think that with huge corporations controlling media organizations, there’s no chance for change.

2. People like free. Much of the debate about journalism centers on monetary issues. Yes, the industry has shed countless jobs, but according to a recent study by the Inland Press Association, some newspapers have increased their operating profit over the last five years.

According to an article about the report:

Outgoing Inland Executive Director Ray Carlsen said the report compares the gains and losses at daily papers across the country. “It’s encouraging to note that newspaper profitability can still achieve a double-digit percentage of gross revenue,” Carlsen said. “It means that newspapers are still a good business when compared to the results of other industries.”

Many newspapers have seen huge declines in profit, but continue to see profits of 12 percent to 15 percent. Perhaps free news isn’t that bad? People like free, so if the news industry starts charging for everything, the prevailing attitude among people seems to be that the content can be found somewhere for free.

3. The choice for news grows everyday. People no longer need to rely on broadcast news or their major metro daily newspaper for news. They have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, independent Web sites and each other. Anyone can create content today, so the top-down function of old media has become extinct.

How do we make them care?

  • Provide unique content that isn’t watered down or found anywhere else. Make sure it tells a story.
  • Give that content context. Why is it important to the audience? What does it mean?
  • Segment the content into digestible bits that hit home for different members of the audience.
  • Use multiple creative ways to distribute the content. Print. Online. Social media. Mobile media. Email lists. Employ them all.
  • Engage in conversation with the audience. They matter more than anything else.
  • When in doubt: The bottom line matters. The story matters more. What the audience thinks matters even more.

Image by Ayla87.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.

Can Multimedia Save Journalism?

Multimedia buttons on a computer

In the late 1990s, when the Internet started catching on, many believed that traditional media, like print and broadcast media would make a transition to the online world.

However, that has yet to fully happen. Newspapers continue to struggle with layoffs and closings. Media leaders have tried and failed at monetizing the news in several different ways.

Despite this, multimedia content has grown on news sites. More publishers, editors and news directors have started hiring web-related positions. Even if we could flip a switch, and make the transition to predominantly online news content, could more multimedia stories save journalism?

Yes. Multimedia is part of the answer.

But only part of it.

The other two factors are money and varied approaches to both the content and the monetization of it.

Segmenting the Content

Robert McChesney, a well-known media critic and scholar whose book I’m reading in one of my graduate classes, asserts that corporations have far too much influence over the media. The hunger for money, he says, effects journalism negatively.

The players haven’t changed in the online world.

The same companies that own newspaper and television stations own many of the most-visited sites. If one of these online companies lacks a foothold in traditional media, it still trends toward being huge.

The need for money, no matter whether a organization is non-profit or for-profit will never go away. News needs funding too.

So how can multimedia attract funds?

Segmented content.

Multimedia lends itself to short bursts of stories, whether it is a photo gallery, video clip, podcast, interactive map or a text article. These pieces can make for perfect bonus content, in addition to certain levels of free content.

The CBS news show 60 Minutes has leaned toward this approach, according to one of its senior producers. Producing quality content will attract viewers and visitors, and may lead them to want to pay for certain additional or premium content.

The next question becomes how to monetize that content.

Monetizing the Multimedia

When I worked for a community newspaper in Florida, I rarely heard from readers who said they read the paper, front to back. When they called to complain or offer praise, it was typically about one section they were passionate about.

This is why I believe segmenting content, and pricing it by the piece and by section might work. However, I also believe that trying different solutions and being nimble about it will work best.

For example, the New York Times will try a metered approach in the future, giving away some free content while charging for some after a certain level of views. This approach might gain traction, thanks to its flexibility and use of free content.

Whether a news organization is for-profit or non-profit, it will always need some type of revenue stream, and multiple revenue streams work even better. Multimedia can drive the transition to more online news and more revenue streams, making news orgs less dependent on solely advertising.

Image by Maxray06.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.