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.

Social Media Strategies

sm strategyBoth of the required readings for this week’s assignment, “Facebook’s ‘dark side’: study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism” authored by Damien Pearse and “Students Addicted to Social Media – New UM Study,” a press release from the University of Maryland Newsdesk offer negative perspectives of youthful users of social media.

The formative steps of any communications plan involve research into the organization and/or product along with an evaluation of stakeholders or intended audiences. A public relations practitioner can use the information by these two posts to gain insight as a communications strategy is developed which targets the age group.

The University of Maryland study provides valuable insights into the social media use by young adults. These findings include the following:

  • Few students watch/read traditional media such as television or newspapers
  • Students have no apparent brand loyalty to traditional media
  • Social media connectivity revolves around personal relationships

The Western Illinois University study cited by author Damien Pearse evaluated the personalities of the young adults who are the most prolific users of social media. This study found those users to be vain and self-absorbed. The young adults were characterized as the “all about me” generation. This useful information can help define key messages for a public relations communication outreach effort.

Buffalo State College Professor, Ron Smith, in his text book Strategic Planning for Public Relations, notes that a key maxim for organizational communications to live by is “know your audience.”

The Pew Research Center in its 2012 study, The Demographics of Social Media Users” helps to further define this audience.

The Pew Research reports the following:

  • Young adults are more likely than other to use major social media
  • Those between 18 – 29 are the most likely to use Twitter
  • Facebook remains the most used social networking site with two-thirds of online adults indicating they are Facebook users.

Communicators need to know more than the demographics of an audience. There needs to be an understanding of which communication tool is preferred and how that tool is used by a particular stakeholder. “Health Communicator’s Social Media Tool Kit”  from the Center for Disease Control is a substantive resource and offers some valuable insights into how and where to reach  young adults with its ‘Top Lessons learned from Using Social Media’. These include, among others: (a) go where the people are; (b) encourage participation (c) provide multiple formats and (d) consider mobile technologies.

The guide also suggests additional media resources for those evaluating the target audience of young adults. Sites offered include the Pew Research Center (cited above) and

  • Quantcast – a site which describes itself as one that “provides free, directly measured traffic and audience composition reports”
  • comScore – is a fee based service that “identify the web content that best reaches their target audiences”

There are a plethora of websites and a mountain of information for those who seek to reach young adults using social media.  A successful communications plan should narrow the focus to specific areas of interest; monitor the preferred communications channels and offer personalized messages that appeal to the self interests of young adults. Professional communicators will need to engage stakeholders on popular sites and established authentic relationships with young adults to maximize results, thus contributing to an overall communications initiative.

This week’s two assigned readings are only the beginning.

Journalism Evolves with Live Blogging

blogThe Guardian article, “How live blogging has transformed journalism” explores the impact of live blogging on the journalism profession. One author who was cited even goes so far as to state that live blogging is the “death of journalism.”

In 1897, Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” In 2013, the reports of the demise of journalism are indeed greatly exaggerated. Technologies have changed the business model and the tools used to report the news, however news remains and will remain, an essential element of society and its culture.

The method of gathering, producing and disseminating news is currently undergoing a titanic shift, previously moving from news rooms to printing presses to delivery of hard copy newspapers to reader’s homes to the current transition to virtual reporting.

Today reporters are using ipads and skype to provide live action of unfolding events to servers where content is instantly delivered to the front door of online readers via Facebook, twitter, and live blogs.

As journalists learn how to optimize these tools to report the news, there will be mistakes. Just take a look at the recent Sandy Hook school shootings.  Those who erroneously reported major facts of that story included CBS, New York Times, Associated Press and National Public Radio.

At first, reporters identified the wrong person as the shooter, said the mother of the shooter was a teacher in the school, and reported the shooter’s father also had been killed in a nearby home.

Chris Septer in his Linked-In blog post, “Beyond Sandy Hook. Why it’s ok for the media to be wrong (for a while)” cites an old adage, “journalism is the first rough draft of history” he goes on to say, “now everyone sees news as it is being created when it is wrong. We participate in and literally live the news-gathering process in real time.”

Many of those who commented on his thoughtful post objected to his argument that it is ok when journalists – in an effort to be first to report – get it wrong; providing correct information in updates.  Those commenters correctly suggest a journalist should provide accurate information, not speculation.  The stream of consciousness, in-the-moment kind of reporting, some consider live blogging is fine if accurate. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle. A suspect, once identified as a suspect, will carry that label for the rest of his/her life. Not everyone will read the update or believe the update. It is a journalist’s responsibility to get it right the first time and every time, regardless of the pressure of deadlines or competition.

In a blog called Green Slade offered by the Guardian, the author offers the thought that “today’s information environment requires that restraint itself be shared, be publicized.” In other words, a writer/reporter should be transparent about their sources, the credibility of those sources and whether or not the information has been confirmed. In today’s social media world, it is called transparency.

Sandy Hook was not the first breaking news story in the social media age where reporters failed to get the facts. Perhaps readers remember the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gifford when such reputable national news organizations as CNN, CBS, and NPR reported Gifford was dead.

Breaking news is hard. Even the best reporters make mistakes.  Craig Silverman writing for Poynter correctly observes that “breaking news presents one of the most common and pervasive opportunities for error.”

The adoption of live blogging and micro-blogging by news media amplifies those errors and speeds them around the world, making the demand for accurate reporting even more necessary.  As journalists adapt to these technologies, they also will further define how to use those tools. With maturity, the rules of engagement for responsible reporting also will be re-defined.

Journalism in this new age of social media is evolving but alive and well.

What is old is new again

Content Farms: what they are, how they operate and who they impact provided new insights into the structure and operation of the World Wide Web.

To learn that a small group of entrepreneurs, dedicated to the bottom line, are providing significant content for some of the most popular website was disheartening.  The numbers are amazing.  According to published reports, Demand Media is adding 4,000 videos and print pieces every day. The article indicates that Demand Media is the most aggressive of the companies, using scientific algorithms to maximize content and therefore, profit.

How many web users understand that when they go to their web browser and seek out information on everything from diets to dogs that the content provided is based on a computer program designed to maximize the advertisements to which they are exposed? I can imagine that only those most educated in online communications are aware of these practices.

Since the advent of mass media, communicators and their corporations have sought to boost circulation, listeners and viewers. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were known for their rivalry for readers, printing sensational stories that they thought would sell more papers. The practice, called yellow journalism, eventually gave way to ethical standards and responsible reporting. As everyone knows, the Pulitzer Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to journalism.

In television, during rating periods commonly called sweeps weeks, broadcast outlets around the county offer series of stories with the goal of increasing viewers. The more viewers, the more the stations can charge for advertising. Hence, stories designed to capture viewer’s attention are broadcast carrying outlandish headlines such as “Felons in Daycare” or the “Menopause Drug.”

Now there is a new medium, the internet, delivering content coupled with demands to generate revenue from the endeavor. The questionable practices outlined in this week’s reading assignment run the gamut from plagiarism to hiring of “content farm hands” paid only $15 a story.

So while internet entrepreneurs are making millions through search engine optimization and page views, the unsuspecting web browsing public is probably unaware of how the information they seek may be erroneous and manipulated to maximize someone’s bottom line.  Unfortunately, stories included for reading in this week’s assignment such as Business Insider apparently were not picked up by main stream media where they would have enlightened those of us who are mere users of the medium.