Posts Tagged ‘New York Times


These Revolutions Are Not All Twitter

These Revolutions Are Not All Twitter
Published: February 1, 2011

The Middle East’s latest unrest has revived once again a tired debate about the power of social media.

Recent headlines gush about the arrival of the “Facebook Revolution” or “Twitter Diplomacy.” Critics like Evgeny Morozov respond by noting that the influence of new media has been exaggerated by a press enthralled with “techno-utopianism.” Social media enables fast coordination, critics say, not the narrative or resolve necessary to sustain a movement; flashmobs do not a political organization make.

But to state the obvious — that Facebook cannot replace good old-fashioned activism — is not to say much about what Facebook actually does in a place like Egypt. What does it do?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent critique of cyber-activism, argued that the problem with Facebook and its kin is that social networks are only good at certain small tasks that draw on weak social ties. You can easily get a million people to sign up for a cause — but that cause is just as likely to be “Save Darfur” as it is to be the “Foundation for the Protection of Swedish Underwear Models.” Social media tools cannot supplant the kind of organizing required by, say, the civil rights movement. Social media tools, Gladwell says, “are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

But what if revealing the status quo is enough to change it?

Psychologists have long known about a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance — situations in which people keep their true preferences private because they believe their peers do not or will not share their beliefs. In 1975, the sociologist Hubert O’Gorman showed that pluralistic ignorance was to blame for the false perception white Southerners had that their peers overwhelmingly supported segregation.

In such situations, rapid shifts in behavior can occur with the mere introduction of information about actual peer preferences. Acting on this authority — the authority of one’s peers — is a powerful phenomenon. Studies have shown that the extent to which we are willing to litter, or to lower our energy use, is tied to our perception of what our peers are doing. Merely knowing about social dynamics changes social dynamics.

Health experts have used this insight to fight binge drinking. Studies on the Princeton campus revealed that a majority of students did not like to binge drink, but they wrongly believed themselves to be in the minority. So rather than urge students not to binge drink, health officials revealed the fact that a majority of students do not like binge drinking — and they had college students convey the message. Information about peer preferences, conveyed by peers, is a powerful influence on our behavior.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s illegitimacy has long been the family secret. Few dared to speak out for fear that their peers would not show up.

Here, then, is the power of Facebook. Not only does social networking give demonstrators a tool for quick coordination, but it reveals important information about peer preferences. It offers a platform to say “you are not alone; see you in Tahrir Square.” And tipping points can be as tiny as a tweet. That small, silly act is what in politics we call solidarity. It is the basis for all social movements.

This is not to say that a Facebook-organized street protest — even one with thousands of members demanding revolution — is enough to overthrow a government, or that Facebook deserves all the credit for doing so. Political movements still require tight organization.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which was hailed as the first great social-media campaign, and also credited with the greatest command-and-control campaign discipline in recent memory. Social networks are supposed to be good at getting people to take little steps — pledges, small donations — not national revolutions. Yet, the Obama campaign put a black man in the White House. How can this be?

The answer is that his campaign organizers managed the relationship between the vertical and the horizontal. They relied on networks for what networks are — a messy, decentralized source of small donations and online pronouncements, which their campaign headquarters then harnessed for their political value. That meant letting the network speak for itself: millions of Americans tweeting “Yes We Can.”

Of course, great movements require great leaders. That’s why the leadership vacuum in the Middle East is so politically electric, and why Tunisia is still a mess.

The crucial question, in Egypt as in Yemen and Tunisia, has little to do with Twitter’s availability. It is whether a galvanizing figure will step forward and seize this opportunity to lead, or remain in the crowd, just another decentralized node in the network.

Andrew K. Woods is a Climenko Fellow at Harvard Law School and co-editor of the forthcoming book, “Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights.”


social media done right is all about improving customer lives through a better online experience

Social Media Are Easier Than You Think

With so many new technologies and tools, we business owners often feel as if we’re playing catch-up — as if we don’t even know what we don’t know. In just the last few years, there’s been a land grab by newly minted social media experts staking claim to social media prowess. Last month, the team over at Thought Lead hosted an online meet-up of 60 social media and online marketing experts titled The Influencer Project. The one-hour seminar gave all of the experts 60 seconds to offer their best advice on how companies could increase their influence online. For anyone with attention-deficit impulses (ahem) this was nirvana.

Marketing and Twitter and Facebook stars like Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing and Gretchen Rubin, who penned The Happiness Project, suited up. I was sold on attending the free gathering when I saw Scott Porad, who created the LOL cat phenomenon I Can Has Cheezburger, would be chiming in, too.

While the conference focused on helping social media companies enhance their influence, the takeaways apply to many small businesses. We listened here at Door Number 3, and we were surprised. As mystifying as social media can seem, the collective advice sounded like a primer for — here’s the surprising part — parenting 101 or social skills 101. Basically, all it takes are good communication skills:

Tell great stories. The secret to creating brand allegiance is giving people a story along with every purchase. And what better venue than a social community that is there expressly to interact? Follow smart people like Brian Solis to learn how to hone your company’s storytelling skills.

Mr. Solis is a principal at Silicon Valley’s new media agency, FutureWorks. Check out his Conversation Prism, which is a visual synopsis that shows how all of the social media sites out there can be leveraged and how they overlap and build on each other. Be multidimensional. Share your passions as well as your expertise. People buy products from companies whose values they align with.

Be consistent. And flex your Twitter finger. Share good content consistently and your audience will keep coming back. Talk about things you know, provide relevant and interesting info. If they like what you’re serving, people — not unlike livestock — will come back at the same time every day for their daily diet. Repeat your Twitter posts up to four times in eight hours — you’ll get the same amount of click-throughs each time because people don’t go back to read what they’ve missed on Twitter. Make sure the story you tell about your brand is authentic and, yes, be consistent.

The content can’t be all about you. My friend Lisa often jokes when we are catching up, “Enough about me talking about me. What do you think about me?” The social media consultant Michelle Greer, who won the 2009 Austin Social Media Award, says social media done right is all about improving customer lives through a better online experience. And that starts with content.

Start a conversation, educate, entertain and create a better user experience. Stop talking about your products and services. Offer free samples and creative thoughts. Social media give you the power to listen to conversations and connect the dots. People want something to talk about and rally around. Social media allow businesses and nonprofits to bring people and passions together. In 2008, Ms. Greer organized the first Blood Drive Tweetup, a crowdsourced fund-raiser that doubled the traffic for the Central Texas Blood and Tissue Center. The project became a national blueprint for other blood banks around the country.

Listen, respond and take it offline. Social media are really just about talking to people, so start that dialogue on Twitter and Facebook. Then listen intently and respond. Identify bloggers who are influencers with your target audience and reach out to them. Freshbooks is an online time-tracking and invoicing company in Toronto that keeps the dialogue running with loyal customers on Facebook. The Freshbooks team members have titles like Chief Handshaker, Chief Cat Herder and Support Rockstar. And they take it offline, hosting suppers with their users to find out what they like and need.

Meanwhile, Pandora Radio holds town hall meetings across the United States where Pandora users can tell Tim Westergren, the chief executive, what kinds of music they want to hear. And then, guess what? Pandora fans blog about it, and upload video of meetings to Flickr and YouTube, further sharing the love for the brand.

Pandora has truly hit a sweet spot with customer service. Proof? The Onion satirized the company’s zeal to find the music a listener wanted in a “news” story. And then, of course, Pandora posted the story on Twitter.

Be transparent, be honest. Creating a good relationship requires these things. It’s no different online.

Social means not being alone. Use it as one tool of many to reach and motivate your target audiences. The real sweet spot in marketing your company comes from a confluence of different vehicles where the net effect is your brand being seen, heard and reinforced on many levels. Each medium has its strengths: television delivers emotion and impact. Coupons can drive trial and purchase. Search advertising lets people find your company easier. And billboards often direct people to your closest location. Social media, done well, strengthen the bond between the company and the end user. To create enduring brands, a marketing program uses many different touch points.

There. Demystified. Building your company’s influence through social media requires simple, straightforward communications skills. The only thing you may not have known about creating influence through social media is that you had the power to do it all along.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.


Apple jumping into the social networking business with Ping

From Apple, a Step Into Social Media for Music
Published: September 1, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple jumped into the social networking business on Wednesday, introducing Ping, a service built into iTunes that is intended to help users discover new music and, presumably, buy more songs from Apple.

Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, showcased Ping at an event here along with a string of other new products. They included updates to Apple’s iPod line of music players and new software that allows wireless printing from iPads and iPhones.

Mr. Jobs also introduced a much-anticipated upgrade of its Apple TV set-top box that is smaller and, at $99, significantly cheaper than its predecessor, which did not sell well. It allows users to rent television shows from Fox and ABC for 99 cents, and like many other devices, it can also stream movies from Netflix.

Mr. Jobs said the changes to the iPod lineup, which include new versions of the Shuffle, Nano and Touch models, were the most significant since Apple introduced its first music player in 2001.

“This year we’ve gone wild,” Mr. Jobs said. Sales of iPods have declined this year, but revenue from them has continued to grow as more buyers choose the higher-priced Touch model.

An unexpected announcement from Mr. Jobs was the introduction of Ping. With it, users will be able to follow friends and see what music they have bought or enjoyed, what concerts they plan to attend and what music they have reviewed. They will also be able to follow bands and get updates on their new releases, concert tours and other events.

Many other online music services like Pandora and Zune Social from Microsoft already have features that allow friends to share information about music.

While other social networks have struggled in the shadow of Facebook, some analysts said that Apple had a chance to turn Ping into a success. The service will be instantly available to 160 million iTunes users, as long as they download the latest version of the software, which Apple released on Wednesday.

“Apple wants to create even tighter links with iTunes users and keep them a click away from buying a song,” said Mike McGuire, a vice president with Gartner. “Ping will give people more reasons to spend frequently and rapidly.”

While Ping may put Apple in competition with Facebook, its impact on the struggling MySpace may be more pronounced, analysts said. MySpace has emphasized music over the last few years.

“This isn’t about reconnecting with your girlfriend from eighth grade,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “This is about talking to people about music.”

A spokeswoman for MySpace declined to comment.

Mr. Jobs said Ping would have simple privacy controls. Anyone will be able to follow bands and receive their updates, and users will be able to say whether they want to be followed by anyone or only by people they approve.

The new iPod Touch is thinner than the previous model and comes equipped with front- and rear-facing cameras, as well as Apple’s FaceTime video chatting software. It also has the same high-resolution retina display that Apple first showcased on the iPhone 4 earlier this year.

The Touch comes in three versions; the cheapest has 8 gigabytes of storage and costs $229.

Apple shrank the iPod Nano by replacing its wheel interface with a touch screen. It costs $149 for an 8-gigabyte version and $179 for 16 gigabytes.

In introducing the new version of Apple TV, Mr. Jobs acknowledged that the set-top box had not been as successful as he had hoped. The new version replaces the download-to-own model with a rental service that has shows from Fox and ABC for 99 cents. Mr. Jobs said the other networks had yet to agree to Apple’s pricing.

“We think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board with us,” he said.

But that is far from guaranteed. All television studios are wary of distributing their shows in new ways on the Internet for fear of harming their existing businesses, which rely on cable and satellite subscriptions.

Fox and ABC agreed to Apple’s pricing model only after lengthy negotiations and heated internal discussions, especially at Fox’s parent, the News Corporation.

ABC’s participation is not surprising, given that Mr. Jobs is the largest shareholder and a board member of its parent, the Walt Disney Company.

For its part, Fox suggested that its agreement with Apple was something of an experiment. In a statement, Jim Gianopulos, the chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said the studio was excited to work with Apple over the next several months to “explore this innovative offering.”

Other networks, like CBS and NBC, are pointedly not participating in the rentals program. “Episodic television is not a pay-per-view business,” said Keith J. Cocozza, a spokesman for Time Warner, which owns HBO, TNT and other channels. Companies like Time Warner are instead supporting the existing subscription TV model, which is being gradually extended to the Web.

Analysts said that the new Apple TV was likely to be more of a hit than its $299 predecessor, in part because of its low price, but also because of software that allows users to stream content from their iPhones and iPads to their TVs through the set-top box. But they said Apple’s challenges in securing more content underscored the continuing difficulties that technology companies faced in cracking the TV market.

“Apple has not yet made a significant play for control of the TV,” James L. McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester, wrote on his blog.

Brian Stelter contributed reporting from New York.

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