Checked In?

300px-Geosocial-universal-infographicGeosocial networking is defined by Buffalo State professor Daniel Rera as “a type of social networking in which geographic services and capabilities such as geocoding and geotagging are used to enable additional social dynamics.”

These are tools that allow one to use a smart phone or app to connect to friends and/or places.

Foursquare claims that “more than 30 million people make the most of where they are” by using this application. My question is why?Foursquare offers the opportunity for users to “share” with their online network where they are at the moment, whether it be at a five star restaurant or at Sheas’s Performing Arts for a performance of Jersey Boys. Are folks just bragging? Will all this monotonous sharing calm down once people become bored with the new tool?

Additionally, Foursquare offers badges for those who check-in to specific locations. Those who do so enough times may earn a “mayor” designation. Sounds a little like kindergarten when five year olds are encouraged to earn a gold star for good behavior.

Perhaps, my lack of understanding of these new geosocial tools is a result of the generational divide. Adults who are more mature may not be as tuned in to the social networking latest trends. But are we so self-absorbed that we have to share every moment? A friend recently posted on their Facebook page that they were experiencing “gas” with a “P.U.” noted after. Do I (and all her friends) really need to know that?

So what do the experts have to say about geosocial networking? USA Today writer Byron Acohido in September 2011 reported on the convention of Information Systems Audit and Control Association or ISACA. These experts say that “located-based services are posing new threats to business and consumers.” The article reports that “when a user’s gender, race, occupation and financial history are combined with geo-location tags, the information can be used by criminals to identify an individual’s present or future location. This raises the possibility of threats that range from burglary to stalking to kidnapping.”

Another source, WikiHow says, “geotagging can be a wonderful feature….however there is a risk of social surveillance by GPS.” The article adds “avoiding the risks of geotagging is one more important thing to keep in mind in this day and age of diminishing privacy” and the site offered important suggestions on ways to accomplish that end.

Despite the risks, geosocial networking is hugely popular. The Pew Internet organization reports the following in a 2012 survey of smartphone users:

  • 74% of smartphone users get real-time location-based information on their phone which is up from 55% in May 2011.
  • Younger adults are more likely than older adults to use both location-based information and geosocial “check-in” services.
  • Lower-income households are less like to use located-based information services but more likely to use geosocial services such as Foursquare.
  • One in five teens with smartphones (18%) use a geosocial service.

It appears the future of geosocial networking is now.


The New Normal

nosmokingLife after cancer is often called the new normal. It’s a world where survivors adjust to life-changing realities after treatment. For members of the New Voice Club, survivors of head and neck cancers, it means you can no longer breathe through your nose and smell or taste food. It means no more swimming.  It means the simple act of talking with family and friends is difficult and often frustrating because they must put an electronic hand-held device up to their throats each and every time they want to be heard.

We have all seen those hard hitting New York State Smokers’ Quitline commercials where the man coping with emphysema struggles to breathe or the guy with the artificial voice box talks about giving up his dream of umpiring professional baseball. We have also heard the complaints – some think the ads are too graphic or uncomfortable to watch. Those 30 second slices of life only begin to tell the story.

Members of the New Voice Club believe it is an honor and a duty to use their “new” voices to speak about the rest of the story. They have made it their mission to talk to young people throughout Western New York. Last year, they visited more than 150 classrooms and spoke with more than 5,000 students. These young people believe they are invincible to the dangers of smoking.

Even though these cancer survivors can’t talk for long periods of time, they are proud to share their experiences about the catastrophic impact of smoking on their lives. Most of them started smoking when they were young because they thought “everyone was doing it” or “cigarettes made us look cool.”  Now, they hope students will see how not cool it is to talk through a hole in your throat or have people look at you with pity or fright. Teachers frequently tell members of the New Voice Club that students quickly understand these cancer survivors are living proof of the damage caused by tobacco use.

The brief glimpses into reality offered by New York State Smokers’ Quitline commercials are meant to grab attention. Researchers say these commercials work to prevent young people from starting tobacco use and motivate adult users to quit. While there are 2.7 million smokers in New York State, the vast majority (about 75%) want to quit.

So if the shock value of these commercials motivates smokers to call the Quitline, that’s great. The commercials are working as the cost of smoking is too high whether the price is paid in terms of lives lost or health care costs or daily struggles to live with the new normal.

If members of the New Voice Club had the chance they would gladly go back in time and talk to a younger version of themselves. With what they know today, they would never have started smoking in the first place. Instead, they welcome opportunities to share their stories with students so that today’s youth might learn from their mistakes. And in spite of the daily challenges of their new normal, they remain grateful for every moment of life.

Who is minding the store?

nosmokingWhen you walk into a convenience store or a gas station, you are bombarded with tobacco promotions. These promotions are strategically placed so as to be impossible to miss – next to the snacks and soft drinks; hanging from the ceiling; and located directly behind the checkout counter so they are in your face every time you make a purchase. From the floor to the ceiling, you will find walls chock full of tobacco products of every type and description.

Tobacco company internal memos have shown that, for years, they designed their imagery to get the attention of the youth market.  Tobacco industry documents refer to young people as “Replacement smokers” because their products are destined to kill one in three users.

What other product do you know of that can make that claim when used as directed.   Tobacco companies know that if they can get a young person to start smoking before they become 18 years old, they are more than likely to become hooked for life.

How does tobacco advertising appeal to young people?  The $1 million that the tobacco companies spend each day in New York State guarantees that everyone, including kids, will see their products behind the front counter right next to the candy and other youth oriented items. Exposure to tobacco marketing is a primary cause of youth smoking.  Every day, our kids are exposed to a tremendous amount of tobacco marketing in our grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies. Studies show that even brief exposure to tobacco advertising influences adolescents to smoke. And surprisingly, young people are more likely to be influenced by cigarette advertising than by peer pressure.

When is tobacco too available and too visible in Western New York? You can judge for yourself.   The Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition and the American Cancer Society recently surveyed more than 80 stores that sell tobacco in Amherst, Buffalo, Hamburg, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Tonawanda and Williamsville. The survey found that tobacco ads were displayed inside 93% of stores and that 90% of the stores featured tobacco product displays behind the cash register.  There is one licensed tobacco retailer for every 194 children under age 18 in New York State.

What authority do local communities have over tobacco advertising? For the first time, local communities can make their own decisions. A recent federal law gives state and local governments the authority to determine community standards for responsible tobacco retailing.

Today’s displays give youth the impression that tobacco products are easy to buy and that it is okay to smoke. Tobacco promotions shout at our young people – smoking is cool, sexy and fun. Reducing the number of tobacco retailers or covering up the ubiquitous tobacco advertising will go a long way toward reducing the rate of youth smoking and sales to minors.  The less tobacco seen by our youth the better chance we have to make their health and well being the priority.

Demographics of Facebook Users

imagesPracticing public relations professionals will focus at least part of their efforts on understanding their target audience and the channels of communication those audiences use to gather information. This week’s assignment, “Data Science of the Facebook World” by Stephen Wolfram offers insight into the demographics of stakeholders who use one specific channel of social media communications, Facebook.

In his book, “Strategic Planning for Public Relations,” author and Buffalo State College professor, Ron Smith says that no one communication channel will fit the needs of a strategic communications plan (page 186).

According to Smith, communication tools run the gamut from those that offer face-to-face opportunities; organizational media such as in-house newsletters; news media; advertising and now social media. Understanding how to effectively use Facebook and knowing the key characteristics of Facebook users will help determine if it is the correct channel for that specific communications plan.

Key demographic features outlined in the Wolfram article are summarized below.  Similar research conducted by the Pew Research Center and documented in the report, “The Demographics of Social Media Users -2012” provides additional insights.

Wolfram’s findings include the following:

  • The quantity and age of a Facebook user’s friends are dependent upon the Facebook user. In other words the age of friends is similar to that of the user. However, older Facebook users in general are friends with people who represent a wider range of ages.
  • Teenage boys have more friends than teenage girls
  • Location matters. High friend counts are reported on the East Coast and Midwest of the United States
  • Facebook can help track the movement of users as they relocate to different cities and states due to such circumstances as going to college or taking a new job.
  • People tend to be friends with people who have similar interests
  • Facebook friends appear to be clustered around social groups such as family, school and neighborhood
  • Clusters can offer valuable insight into the life story of the Facebook user
  • Topics of interest to Facebook users were evaluated.

Favorite topics by age are:

  • 20s: relationships; school; sports
  • 30s: career and money; transport; fitness
  • 40s: technology; sports, travel
  • 50s: special occasions, weather, health

The Pew Research findings support and expand on the demographic characteristics of Facebook users identified by Wolfram. These include:

  • Facebook is the most popular communications channel
  • Women use Facebook more than men
  • Use peaks in the 18-29 age group and then steadily declines
  • Social media use is not dependent on education or household income
  • Location: residents in urban areas are more likely to use social networks than those who live in rural and/or suburban regions

A public relations practitioner could use the information provided by Wolfram, the Pew Research Center, and others to more effectively reach specific stakeholders with their messages.  For example, health care messages regarding HPV vaccines which are designed to prevent certain types of cancer prevalent among young adults would/should be communicated using social media channels. However, messages communicating the value of prostate cancer screening, a disease common among older men, would be better disseminated using more traditional communications channels where this audience is likely to receive information.

Understanding the communications tool and who uses that tool are as important as the messages themselves.