Tag Archives: Facebook

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing

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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.

 

The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to goo.gl/WEplXS to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters (goo.gl/4RKgVR) in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

After chaos came community, creativity, and connectivity

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I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. It’s a city that three years ago was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes; the most serious on 22 February, when 185 people died. Our central business district and several outlying suburbs where reduced to rubble.

Three years on, Christchurch has been named the world’s second-best place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times. Living here, it’s hard to understand why; I mean the place is a mess! Of course, one-in-100-year rain events are not helping either, for a city with a compromised storm water infrastructure…

As part of its feature  “52 places to visit in 2014” the New York Times called Christchurch a “city in transformation”, experiencing a “rebirth with creativity and wit”. 

Institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery have looked for alternatives while doors remain closed – using blank walls and spaces to create “outer space” exhibitions. And with a lot of our heritage buildings reduced to rubble, there has been an increased interest in documenting and sharing heritage resources online.

Public artwork by Wayne Youle; photo Jared Cantlon.

WAYNE YOULE: I SEEM TO HAVE TEMPORARILY MISPLACED MY SENSE OF HUMOUR

Some of the positive, interpretative outcomes of tragedy – both live and digital – that have grown from the rubble over the last three years include:

Cool online maps

Quakemap – this became the go-to website for all Cantabrians, with people flocking to Quakemap after every aftershock. This animated map shows where rumbles are centred, their depth and magnitude with a series of colour-coded spots. You can look back and watch series of shakes by timeframes of your choice. Conceived and developed by Paul Nicholls of the University of Canterbury’s Digital Media Group (Christchurch).

More recently, Google map-based resouces help tourists find the ‘Neat Places’ in Christchurch, to make the most of a visit to our torn-up town.

Strengthening communities and individuals

Neighbours who may have never spoken before turned to help each other post-earthquake. Many of these communities continue to support each other through the rebuild, via neighbourhood forums and events. The Rebuild Christchurch website offers a tool for people to build an online community, based on their neighbourhood.

The internationally acclaimed Student Volunteer Army was a social media movement that mobilised over 11,000 students to assist in the clean-up of Christchurch. It began with one young man starting a Facebook page to generate and guide volunteers amongst his peers. The group is still active, and were out in force this week cleaning up after the latest storm. In 2012 Sam Johnson was named “Young New Zealander of the Year” and Prinz communicator of the year and is a compelling speaker on using technology for social change.

Digital archives – sharing the stories

The collective experiences of a crumbled city are being collated via several portals, several under the auspice of the University of Canterbury’s CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive project.

Quake Studies is CEISMIC’s formal digital archive to document the Canterbury earthquakes by collecting reports, documents, stories, photos and film to be available to researchers in perpetuity, access-controlled.

Quake stories is for more personal stories, memories, experiences and photos of the Canterbury earthquakes and how they affected people, including the aftermath and ongoing story of the rebuilding. It’s described as a living memorial.

When my home shook is also personal accounts, but aimed specifically at school children, years 5-12, as a part of the recovery process.

Kete Christchurch is a creative commons digital archive compiled by Christchurch City Libraries, and includes several kete or “baskets” of knowledge, including the Christchurch earthquakes.

History these days is told via multiple voices.

New apps and innovations

CityViewAR is a mobile Augmented Reality application that allows people to see how the city was before the earthquakes and building demolitions. Using an Android mobile phone people can walk around the city and see life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished.

HitLab have taken this even further and used CityView AR to test their ‘Googleglasses’ – the first truly wearable computer for the masses. CityViewAR on Glass also shows panorama images taken after the earthquake, allowing people to look around them and use the head-tracking capability of Glass to see a full 360-degree photo of the city damage.

High Street Stories – NZ Historic Places Trust collaborated with HitLab and NV Interactive to create ‘High Street Stories’ website and a smartphone application, with over 100 stories of the central Christchurch street’s past. Users can wander around the area using an android phone or mobile device and see images of the now demolished heritage buildings and the precinct as it was before the quakes whilst listening to history and anecdotes about life in the area.

High street Stories

Read more about High street Stories in the summer 2014 issue of INNZ Insights

Creation of new groups, trusts and organisations

The response of many individuals after the earthquakes was to do something creatively positive and gather in the energies of others. And because the projects were all temporary by nature, it was a license to ignore the fear of failure – it was just about having a go!

Gap Filler –  temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Wall murals, poetry, sound garden, pallet pavilion (an open air events venue) and Dance-o-mat are some of the groovy projects, with the latest join the portfolio – the Inconvenience Store – selling things like ‘eyes in the back of your head’!

Greening the Rubble – sticking true to Christchurch’s soul as The Garden City, Greening the Rubble was a grassroots movement to create temporary gardens and public green spaces in vacant sites. Hero projects include the Sydenham Street Coffee Zone, Sound Garden, Nature Play Park, and Pod Oasis.

Children play in Greening the Rubble's Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them; photo S Mankelow

Children play in Greening the Rubble’s Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them

Ministry of Awesome – watering the seeds of awesome in Christchurch, Sam Johnson and others created this organisation to gather ideas and inspiration, and create events to provide opportunities to see some of those seeds take root.

Yes life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011. I still have to drive a long way to buy milk as our dairy and supermarket have gone. I can get lost in my home town as every street corner looks the same and there are road works at every turn.

But there’s a ‘new’ creative Christchurch amidst the rubble and vacant spaces. It’s a blank page and we’re colouring flat out, without worrying about going over the lines.

I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. Come visit.

This just in! How social media campaigns can be successful

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I am often a great supporter of procrastination. Not a proactive supporter, just a passive one. In fact, I often find that the mere act of doing nothing has the unintentional effect of encouraging procrastination.

So, I was busy procrastinating from writing my latest blog post for Media Platypus. I guess I was just waiting for something to happen on its own, when – ding! – something suddenly appeared in my inbox. It was a report from Ipsos, a worldwide market research firm. But, this isn’t just any report. It is a report about social media campaigns. Bingo! Procrastination 1. Hard Work 0.

This new report (from Ipsos’ UK office) attempts to identify ways that social media campaigns can be successful. It is something that I fully intended on coming up with myself, but how about I just tell you what the report says instead?

In a nutshell, this report identifies three things you must do to be successful with your campaign:

1. Play to the strengths of each platform. They are all different. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Just because they are all grouped together under the umbrella of social media, it doesn’t mean you should take the same approach with each platform. They are all different and have different users. And, these users have different behaviour and reasons for using those platforms.

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Social Media – as explained by the act of peeing

According to their survey of UK users, Facebook is about sharing enjoyment with friends, Twitter is about discovery and connection with like-minded individuals, and YouTube is about entertainment and relaxation (like TV). The implication? Your content for Facebook should be focused on bringing friends together, your content for Twitter should be about discovery, and your content for YouTube should entertain and inform.

2. Deliver content people want to engage with. This seems obvious, but I see a lot of examples of content that either isn’t engaging or is on the wrong platform. When surveying how people interact with brands on various platforms, Ipsos discovered that people look for promos and offers on Facebook, and news on Twitter. Linkedin was more for learning from experts.

3. Be relevant and add value.  If we want people’s time, we need to reward them for it. 45% of people that “like” a brand on Facebook subsequently unlike it. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but often it is because there is some immediate one-time reward or contest, and there isn’t enough relevant and rewarding content to continue.

If you would like to read the entire report (it isn’t very long), you can check it out here. As for me, I have some serious procrastination planned.

What time of day should you post to Facebook?

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A typical Facebook post reaches one-third of the people it’s going reach in the first 10 minutes of its life, and half of the people it’s going to reach within a half hour (according to the website Marketing Charts). After that first half hour, your Facebook post gradually descends into near-complete obscurity, much like a New York Mets baseball season. (A baseball reference for all of our new friends in New Zealand!)

This means that if you post something witty and amazing and wonderful at the wrong time, your efforts are wasted. (Okay, maybe not wasted, but less fruitful than they could have been.) Here’s the thing: It’s easy to look at this and say, “Okay, we’ll post our stuff when the most people are on Facebook (early evenings and weekends) so that the most people will see it.” The problem with that is that if you post when the most people are on Facebook, you’re competing with all the other social media outlets that are thinking the same thing.

So then you think, “Okay, we’ll post when nobody’s on Facebook (work hours and late evening) so that we won’t have any competition.” The problem with those hours is that nobody’s on Facebook. (Okay, it’s fairer to say fewer people are on Facebook during those hours, but you get the point.)

So your job as a social media manager is to figure out not only what type of content resonates with your followers, but when the posts that you’re posting get the most reaction. In this article on Constant Contact’s social media marketing blog, Danielle Cormier suggests, “Try to find your engagement sweet spot by determining the intersection of time when the majority of your audience is on Facebook and the time when the least overall posting is occurring.”

Most of the articles you read online say that you should use Facebook insights to analyze demographics to make sweeping generalizations about your followers. The problem with this is that you can use sweeping generalizations to arrive at any conclusion you like. (“More than half of our followers are in New Jersey, so they’re probably Mets fans, which means they’re depressed, which means they’re sleeping late, so we’ll avoid posting to Facebook in the early morning.”)

Instead, The Media Platypus-approved method of determining when to post to Facebook is to analyze your past performance and see which posts are getting the most reaction. Thankfully, Facebook makes this easy. If you are an admin of a page, you can export your insights into a sortable, very useful Excel spreadsheet. Simply go to your page, click on the insights section, and then click where it says “Export Data”:

Export

In the pop-up window that you get, select “Post level data” (I really want to hyphenate “Post-level,” but they didn’t, so I won’t.)

post-level

What you get is an incredibly useful spreadsheet that has all sorts of good information, including dates and times of posts. I’ve included below a screen capture of some insights from Media Platypus’s Facebook page. I sorted the information to list the posts from most to least popular (in terms of reach):

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.09.06 PM

The first thing that jumps out at me from the modest numbers here is that six of our top seven posts are status updates, while links to pages outside of Facebook are all on the bottom half of the list. In terms of time of day, our three most popular posts happened in the late morning/early afternoon, but to be honest, I’m not certain we vary the timing of our posts enough to really glean from this data what the best time of day for us to post is.

If we really wanted to determine the best time of day to post, we would systematically stage our posts using Facebook’s awesome new scheduling feature. For a solid month, we’d schedule posts of all types (status, links, photos, videos) to land at exactly 9:00am, 2:00pm, and 7:00pm, and then analyze the results.

Even from this small sample size, you can see that the content of the post matters a lot more than the time of day in determining the number of people you reach, but time of day is still a factor. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for determining the best time of day for your posts. The best you can do is look at what you’ve done already and see if there’s a pattern, or be systematic in your approach and analyze your results.

Or if most of your followers are Mets fans, the sweeping generalizations will work just fine.

What’s in a meme?

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The word meme has been around a lot longer than LOL Cats, or, for that matter, the Internet. We tend to think of memes as only occurring online—specifically through social media—because they spread so quickly in that venue. In its simplest form, however, a meme is just an idea or concept that is propagated through a culture. It could be anything from boot-cut jeans to the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to the catch phrase “Hey hey hey!” from the ’80s TV show What’s Happening!

The term meme has its origins in the Greek word mimeme (“to imitate”) but was popularized in 1976 in the book The Selfish Gene, in which author Richard Dawkins compared the spread of an idea through a culture to the passing along of genes in the process of evolution. Today, though, when you hear the word meme, you think of this:

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(I am compelled to note this here: I told my highly educated wife that I was writing about the lofty origin of the word meme and how today the word conjures up images like the above. She scoffed slightly and said, “Seems like a step down,” then spent the next 30 seconds laughing hysterically about how funny the image above is.)

I have written several times about my attempts to build Facebook audiences through what I think of as the “George Takei Approach,” which basically boils down to passing along memes. Takei regularly shares quick or funny status updates or images that generate reactions, which then show up in lots of Facebook news feeds, which gains exposure for his page, which generates new followers for him. (See “George Takei is a Social Media Genius.”)

In one article, “Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments,” I wrote about how one page that I maintain, Countdown to Spring Training, racked up new page likes every day with little to no effort on my part, while another, Bloggers To Be Named Later, struggled to gain new followers, even though it took more of my time and energy.

I learned through experimenting (and reading George Takei’s book) that I was making two primary mistakes on the Bloggers To Be Named Later Facebook page: I was not posting often enough (we only had two or three posts a week) and I was only posting links to an outside website (the accompanying blog). In short, I realized I had to stop thinking about the Bloggers Facebook page as a mere companion to the website—and I had to start thinking of it as its own individual presence.

So I enlisted the help of some of the other bloggers (there are a lot of us) to moderate the Facebook page with me, and we set to work creating content that would appear only on the Facebook page. The idea was, if we build up the Facebook page using the George Takei Approach, then that drives traffic to the blog when we post links to articles.

We tried to be witty, with text updates like “New Olympic event: Sequestrian, in which horses argue with each other and accomplish nothing” and “They found horse meat in Taco Bell’s ground beef. And that’s the GOOD news.” Some of these were relatively well received, garnering 10 or 12 likes and the occasional comment, while others generated a lot of silence. (My all-time favorite status update so far is this: “Team Netherlands has taken the field. #Neditude,” even though it generated practically no reaction at all. It was doomed from the get-go, because for it to make any sense at all required knowledge of both the Dutch World Baseball Classic team and the Twitter hash tag the Washington Nationals use to rally their fans.)

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528193_380801358684016_224544673_nWe also created images using the visual vernacular of the modern meme—that is, a photo accompanied by text set in the horrible typeface Impact in white with a black outline, sometimes in all caps. (Basically, it’s everything we would have told you not to do back in the days of our Interpretation By Design blog.) We try to be topical and funny, with varying degrees of success.

The examples here play on an over-the-top reaction to the Detroit Tigers’ new Spring Training caps and a little bit of Photoshop fun inspired by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signing a contract extension. (Of course, these images tend to get downloaded and “reappropriated,” so we’re sure to include our name on the actual image.)

The reaction to these has been okay, and we even gain a new Facebook page like every once in a while. Every time a new page like comes along, I think, “The George Takei system is working!” Just as with genes in biology, the more carriers there are to propagate Internet memes, the more likely they are to get propagated. Every time your page gains a new fan, your chances for exposure to a wider audience increase.

So last Sunday morning, I was lollygagging around the house, finding ways to procrastinate rather than do the things I was supposed to be doing, and I put forth what I described later as “the most pandering meme ever”:

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I was startled by the reaction. Within 20 minutes, it became the most-viewed post ever on our page (and we’ve been doing this for more than a year). At the time of this writing, this image is roughly 90 times more popular than our previous most popular post—it has been shared more than 780 times and has reached almost 90,000 Facebook users. We’ve gained a bunch of exposure and a handful of new page likes out of it. (And creating it took just a small fraction of the time it takes to write a blog post.) These numbers are nothing if you are George Takei, but they’re a big deal to us.

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68300_488771351155571_2047432449_nObviously, Internet memes don’t have to be about sports or photos of funny animals. If you follow our friends at Interpretation Canada on Facebook, you’ll notice that they’ve done a meme campaign specific to interpretation, including the gem above, which received 25 likes and was shared 13 times. The Facebook page for McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona has posted a few of these as well, including the very simple and pleasant message here (featuring a photo by Friend of the Platypus Amy Burnett).

The Internet meme is part of the vernacular of Facebook. Seeing that photo with the white text conjures that same feeling that seeing a hand-drawn comic strip used to. You know someone is trying to make you laugh or make a quick emotional appeal, and it draws you in. And once it draws you in, if that image succeeds in connecting with you, you might just share it with your friends. And they might share it with their friends. And before you know it, it’s a real, live meme.

Negative Feedback? What is Facebook Doing to Me?

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There I was, watching the Super Bowl last Sunday from the comfort of my sofa, and everything went dark. At first, I thought I might be blacking out from the ingestion of one too many pretzel-breaded buffalo chicken strips, but everyone else in the room noticed it, too, so I figured I was okay. As you may remember, if the Super Bowl is the sort of thing you watch, the lights in half the stadium had gone out, forcing a 34-minute delay in the game. As I witnessed this unusual turn of events, I grabbed my iPhone and thought, “Look out, world. Here comes a snarky Facebook comment.”

As I have written about before on this blog, I have been learning a lot about the ins and outs of social media through a Facebook page I maintain called Countdown to Spring Training. (See “Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments.”) So when the lights went out on the Super Bowl, I went to my baseball-centric Facebook page, and wrote: “Lights are out. What’s on the MLB [Major League Baseball] Network?” I don’t mean to brag, but one Countdowner named Rusty commented that it was the best Facebook post of all time.

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The next day, I logged on to my Facebook Pages app (different from the regular Facebook app) on my phone to check out the metrics of my recent posts (under “View Insights”). On the first panel, you can see that the post in question reached 706 people, 572 in the news feeds of people who like the page and 135 who are friends of Countdown fans (zero paid reaches, since I don’t pay to promote posts). The middle panel indicates the number of people who interacted with the post (including zero link clicks, since there were no links to click), and the panel on the right indicates the number of likes, comments, and shares the post generated.

Glancing back at the middle panel, some very small type at the bottom jumped out at me. Here it is enlarged:

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Negative feedback? What the heck does negative feedback mean? Could Countdowner Rusty have been wrong about it being the best post ever? As a person who simultaneously invites and withers from unsolicited criticism (a “blogger”), I was more than a little horrified to learn about this metric. It’s unpleasant, but it can be very useful. A post gets negative feedback if one of four things happens when your fans see it in their newsfeed:

  1. Your Facebook follower hides your post. This means you’ve done something in that one particular post that your follower finds distasteful enough that they want it out of their news feed, but they still want to see future posts from you.
  2. Your follower hides all of your posts. This means they still show up in your count of total page likes, but they never see anything you post.
  3. Your follower unlikes your page. Now you’ve done it.
  4. Your follower marks your post as spam. This means you’re posting too much self-promotional stuff.

The reason this is important is not just that one or two people might hide your content or unsubscribe from your page. If you get negative feedback too frequently, it affects your Facebook EdgeRank, the mysterious secret sauce that Facebook uses to determine whether your posts will make it into your followers’ news feeds. So if you’re constantly posting that you want people to donate to your organization or buy stuff from your store, and enough people start hiding your posts because of it, you’re less likely to make it into your fans’ news feeds when you post the stuff your followers really want to see from you.

Facebook provides incredibly detailed information that allows you to see precisely what your fans are doing with your posts. To get this information, go to the page you manage, be sure that your admin panel is showing, click “See All” next to “Insights,” then click on “Export Data” and be sure to select “Post Level Data.” This will generate an Excel spread sheet that will show you statistics on every one of your recent posts. If you go to a tab called “Lifetime Negative Feedback,” you can see numbers tallied for all of the negative feedback your individual posts have generated—hides (in a column called “hide_clicks” in the spread sheet), unsubscribes (“hide_all_clicks”), and spam reports (“report_spam_clicks”). (There’s a fourth one call “”xbutton” that used to mean something but it really doesn’t anymore.)

I did just this for my Countdown page and was relieved that nearly all of my negative feedback incidents are single hides, rather than unsubscribes, and there was not a single report of spam.

In the future, this information will be invaluable for analyzing not only what content my pages’ followers enj0y (measured in all of the engagement metrics like reach, likes, shares, and comments), but also what’s turning my followers off. Obviously, you can’t please everyone all the time, but if you’re consistently ticking people off and making them hide your posts, that’s probably good information to have.

George Takei on EdgeRank, Links, and LOL Cats

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book_cover_graphics_0I wrote back in April about how social media sensation George Takei was taking the internet world by storm by posting images of cats. When I wrote that post, he had 1.5 million followers on Facebook, and today, about nine months later, that has more than doubled to 3.2 million.

Takei has since published an eBook, Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet, which tells the story of his successes and failures in social media. (I did not know that he started out on Twitter, where he built a large following, before switching to Facebook.) The book addresses how and why he posts what he posts (99 percent funny pictures of cats, 1 percent interesting and poignant social commentary), how he deals with internet trolls (let them have their say), his disappointment in not being able to help fans who want him to help publicize causes (it’s disappointing), and what he has learned about the inner workings of Facebook (more on that below).

Takei’s observations in the book are just that—observations. Facebook is famously secretive about its EdgeRank algorithm, which determines which posts show up in which news feeds, so they would never release that secret formula to the public. (They’re even more secretive about it now that they’re asking page owners to pay for increased visibility of their posts.) But Takei carefully analyzes his posts using Facebook’s “Insights” tool to measure their reach (number of people who see an individual post), engagement (number of people who comment or like a post), and virality (percentage of people who interact with a post after seeing it).

Most of what he says is common sense. People like funny images more than they like text updates. Some people will react negatively to any political stance. And the more followers you have, the more careful you have to be about inadvertently offending people (purposefully offending people is okay). If you post regularly (several times a day) and your posts garner likes and comments, your EdgeRank goes up and future posts are more likely to show up in fans’ news feeds.

And while his formula for cultivating a following is effective, you have a little bit of a head start if you starred in a science fiction TV show with a rabid following.

One of the important observations he makes is this: When you post something on Facebook with a link to an outside website, it is less likely to appear in fans’ news feeds. He writes, “When I have tried to promote something else on my Facebook page by creating a link out, Facebook appears to penalize that post with a lower EdgeRank.”

I wrote less than a month ago about about two experiments I was conducting on Facebook, and these experiments seem to bear out what Takei is saying in his book. I maintain a page called Countdown to Spring Training, which posts quick, simple text updates and images twice a day about how many days there are until Major League Baseball’s preseason begins. These updates garner lots of comments, likes, and shares. When I wrote that post, the page had 523 likes. At the time of this writing, it has 757. (Not quite the pace George Takei gets on his page of 25,000 to 50,000 new likes per week.)

Another page I maintain is called Bloggers To Be Named Later, a companion to a sports/humor blog I write with friends. On that page, we post links to our blog articles once or twice a week. Not only has our number of page likes flatlined at 285 for the last three weeks, but I can tell from our stats that we’re not reaching nearly the same percentage of our fans as the Countdown page does.

Both of these examples bear out what Takei says in his book. Frequent text or image updates with no links are proving far more effective at reaching fans than occasional posts with links. Now that I know all this, I just need to get a starring role on the Star Trek series and I’ll be an internet sensation, too.

Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments

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One of the things social media experts like to tell you is how to attract followers on your social media outlets, as though we just have to follow this simple three-step process and we’ll all be George Takei. Here’s the thing about social media: It can be infuriating. It’s unpredictable, it’s highly excitable, and it’s temperamental. It’s basically me after drinking three Dr. Peppers on an empty stomach. As with most fields, social media expertise comes through trial and error, and knowledge grows with experience.

I have been conducting two simultaneous social media experiments for roughly the last year. Both of these experiments—Facebook pages and their accompanying Twitter handles—are manifestations of my interest in sports and my borderline obsessive personality. The first is a Facebook page called Countdown to Spring Training, which I started in October 2011 after my beloved Phillies were eliminated from the Major League Baseball playoffs with a pop of Ryan Howard’s Achilles tendon. The second is the Facebook page for a blog that I write with friends called Bloggers To Be Named Later.

I don’t make any money on either of these ventures, though I have parlayed the Bloggers To Be Named Later site into press passes to two baseball games.

On the Countdown page, I simply post the number of days left until the first Spring Training game of the baseball preseason, usually accompanied by a weak attempt at humor. That’s all I do. I started the page on a whim, with no ulterior motives whatsoever. In fact, I put so little forethought into it that I didn’t even consider what would become of the page when Spring Training actually started. On Facebook, you can’t change the name of your page once you have 100 likes—which occurred before I realized I should call the page Baseball Countdown or something like that.

On the other hand, I put a lot of time and forethought into the Bloggers To Be Named Later page. Over the course of a couple months, I recruited friends whom I knew to be good writers, funny people, and sports fans, to be contributors. I established parameters for content on the site and finally set up a website for the blog. We have roughly two to five posts per week from six to eight authors. Each post is the result of at least an hour or two of considered effort from the authors.

Neither of these pages has exactly exploded in popularity (both are in triple-digit Facebook likes), but as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of effort I put into each page and the success it’s realizing on Facebook—in short, the Countdown page is performing far better than the Bloggers page. The graphs above show new likes per day for each page in the last month. The Countdown page gets as many as 10 new likes per day (though usually it’s more like three to five), while the only new like the Bloggers page has gotten in a month was my brother Dave, and that’s just because hew was new to Facebook and I was showing him how to like a page. (The graphs above also chart “unlikes,” the Facebook equivalent of a break-up, tracked in horrible green. The only unlike the Countdown page has had in the last month was an accident, and the guy re-liked the page right away. The Bloggers page, had one unlike back in early November, and I’m still taking it personally.)

With the Countdown page, I do practically no promotion whatsoever. Its new likes come primarily from people seeing that their friends have liked or commented on a Countdown status, then liking the page themselves. The page’s weekly “reach” (total number of Facebook users who saw at least one of the page’s posts) is more than 2,600, most of which is reflected in the “viral” line in the chart here. That means Countdowners (as they are affectionately known) interact with the page, their friends see that they’ve done this, then they like the page too. It’s a slow and steady way to build a page, but it’s working.

On the Bloggers page, on the other hand, I practically beg people to like it (slightly under half of our likes are already my Facebook friends). Each author on the blog has invited friends and family to like the page, I put a link to it in my personal email signature, and I even have a business card that directs people to it. (I remind you that this is all for fun. I have no hope of ever making money off this, regardless of what I tell my wife when I have to excuse myself from doing dishes in order to finish a blog post.)

The thing is that I don’t think the lack of a Facebook following means that Bloggers To Be Named Later blog is a failure. It gets regular traffic and has built a small but devoted readership. But I do think these experiments speak to the nature of social media.

The Countdown page asks very little of its followers. I post a short comment every day; the page’s followers can like it and maybe offer a short comment themselves and everyone gets on with their day. The Bloggers page asks people to do a lot more. Almost exclusively, our posts are links to an external site with an article of anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words. When we do get comments, they’re usually on the blog rather than on Facebook. Also, the Countdown page has one, singular focus (it’s a support group for baseball fans in withdrawal) while the Bloggers page has a wider scope (recent posts cover everything from podcasts for interesting people to the murder-suicide that rocked the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend). The Bloggers page also features photos of all 88 unique items in my collection of souvenir ice cream helmet sundaes, a small portion of which are pictured here.

I’ve learned from these experiments that social media users react to quick thoughts about a specific thing that matters to us, and we like to feel that we’re part of a group of like-minded individuals. I’ve also learned that people will unfriend you on Facebook if you ask them to like the same page over and over.

We’ll see you in Virginia. Even if you won’t be there.

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This year’s NAI National Workshop, the annual event that my employer, the National Association for Interpretation, puts on, promises to be the most social ever. And I’m not just talking about Phil Sexton’s all-night dance-a-thon Friday night after the scholarship auction.

We dipped our toes into the world of social media at last year’s NAI Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Lots of participants were connected to smart phones and tablets, possibly reading the electronic version of the program guide in iBooks, but probably playing Words With Friends. Others commented on or liked our posts and photos on the NAI Facebook page. (The one time they let me have a microphone, I was supposed to present award recipients, but first I took a photo of the banquet hall full of participants with my iPhone and posted it to the NAI Facebook page. Lots of people tagged themselves in the photo and we all had a good laugh.) And on Twitter, we actively promoted the use of a hash tag, #NAI2011, which most people used to engage in meaningful dialogue, but someone (I won’t say who) used to sling insults:

One of my favorite outcomes of the use of social media last year was that we connected with many people who were not at the actual event. Someone would tweet during a session: “That George Takei is a social media genius. #NAI2011” and someone else who might not have been in the same state would chime in, “I know, right? What is this #NAI2011 of which you speak?” and then someone else who was supposed to be plugging in LCD projectors at the Workshop but who had instead slipped off to a famous diner nearby for a chocolate malted milkshake would tweet, “George Takei IS a social media genius. I’m going to steal that idea and blog about it some day. #NAI2011.” And so the event broke through the physical boundary of the convention center and into the clouds.

At this year’s NAI Workshop in Hampton Virginia, which starts next week, we’re going even further. Of course, we’ll be on Facebook throughout the week, and we’re promoting a hash tag again, #NAI2012. (You can follow NAI on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NAIinterpret and you can follow Media Platypus at www.twitter.com/MediaPlatypus.) But we’re doing more.

For the first time, we’re making six concurrent sessions available as online webinars, thanks to a partnership with NAI’s Zoos, Wildlife Parks, and Aquaria Section. This means you could be in some exotic place like Australia or Thailand or Ontario, and so long as you had an internet connection and were good at figuring out time zones, you could participate with our event in Virginia. (Learn more about that here.)

Also, we started a new Facebook page just for Workshop participants, which we use to provide detailed information about the event that may not be of interest to all of the roughly 3,000 followers on the main NAI Facebook page. We’ve already posted photos of boxes being shipped, which, let’s be honest, is really only of interest to a small subset of the Facebook population. We cleverly (in my opinion) made the name of this new Facebook page not specific to this year’s event, so come November 18, after the Workshop, we’ll just change the identity over to next year’s event and go about our respective days.

Also this year, a full 10 percent of the concurrent sessions (and an all-day preworkshop session presented by one Phil Sexton) will address social media in some capacity, by far the most ever at an NAI Workshop. You know these sessions will promote the use of social media throughout the week as well.

Finally, one of the ways I know that social media will be promoted at this year’s NAI National Workshop is that I have been tasked with providing a short welcome address the first morning we’re all together. I’ve been specifically banned from talking about the evils of Comic Sans and clip art, and the Phillies have not yet made any significant offseason moves, so I’ll likely have a thing or two about how new media will make this year’s NAI Workshop the greatest ever. And how even if you have another move worth more points, you always want to use the triple-word score if you can on Words With Friends.

They Say I’m Crazy… Crazy, Am I? I’ll Show Them All!

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blackberry

It was one of those hot August days in California. Hot enough to fry eggs on your iPad. Sunny enough to leave a tan line next to your ear from your phone. Eye Doctors were treating people blinded by the sun’s reflection off of their tablets, and sunglass vendors were running out of non-polarized lenses because the polarized ones made it harder to play Angry Birds on an Android.

Suddenly my pocket vibrated. Good thing my phone was there, or I’d have been worried. It was a new wall post on an NAI Facebook page seen by literally dozens, perhaps scores of Interpreters and bots.

“OK techies– I am looking at you Phil Sexton– Discuss…”

The link was to a Newsweek/Daily Beast article. “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” at http://goo.gl/CnbVJ. The sender was Kevin Damstra, a person that I have to take seriously. Well, I don’t really have to, but I think he’s got one of the keys to my skeleton closet. Dang you Damstra! Just when I think I’m free of this mysterious obsession, you pull me back.

I looked up to see if passers by were aware of my distress and pained look, but everyone had their faces buried in a screen. Over at a table next to the hot dog stand, two kids were apparently battling each other on their Samsung phones. Mom had called a girlfriend, while Dad was looking for GroupOn deals in the area. Under the Spud Shack sign, a group of young toughs were shooting photos to post on FourSquare. Behind them, a nerd was submitting a Yelp review of the new Skittles color he’d just seen. At another table, sipping a glass of white wine, an elegant looking, smartly dressed woman was reading a novel on her Kindle.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone get run over by a truck. The victim still clutched his phone as he went down. I ran over to him and noticed that he had exceeded the Twitter limit on his final message. Sadly, it never went out. The truck driver finished texting his wife and began blogging about what happened. The guy on the opposite corner finished shooting video and sent it to CNN as an ireport. A couple of minutes later, my CNN newsfeed jingled, and I saw myself in the background of the video, looking confused as the accident played out on my iphone screen.

It’s a brave, weird and scary new world.

In the article that Kevin referenced, journalist Tony Dokoupil lays out a litany of evidence that our increasing use and dependance on the Internet is

  • making us dumber
  • like “electronic cocaine”
  • leads us to detrimental behavior, even when we know it
  • fosters stress, depression and dependence
  • can trigger and exacerbate ADHD and OCD disorders
photo of a blackberry keyboard with worn out keys

Internet addiction or really rough finger tips?

Frankly, I like the “electronic cocaine” analogy. I had a coworker in my previous job who we often referred to as an “electronic hypochondriac” and this was well before mobile devices. In those antiquarian days, he obsessively called both his home and office answering machines, had two pagers if I recall, and had timers on his television and radios so that they would be on for him when he returned home. Oddly enough though, he was a very late adopter of having a computer and internet at home, but I think that was primarily due to his cheapness. I also know someone who actually wore out the keys on a Blackberry due to excessive emailing.

Apparently in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (you’ve got yours, right?) there will be a listing for “Internet Addiction Disorder.” Frankly, the whole article both annoys and kind of scares me. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think that most people are subject to Internet addiction. On the other hand, I come from a family of alcoholics and I choose not to drink.

I’ve also realized that for the past couple of weekends (and this is one reason why you haven’t seen a post of mine for about two weeks; sorry about that!) I’ve sort of shut myself down on social media during the weekends. I’m not sure if I’m trying not to become like Jason Russell, the man who produced the famous KONY 2012 video. Last March, he quite suddenly walked onto a roadway in San Diego, disrobed, acted quite strangely, and was hospitalized with a mental breakdown. One possible reason had to do with the stress of using Social Media and promoting his film via the web to change the world. People following his Twitter feed and online posts report that, before his breakdown, his online presence had become increasingly strange.

But I do know that, while I’ve snuck a look at what my friends have been up to, and when I’ve thought of something particularly funny or clever (at least to me,) I’ve logged on and posted to my Twitter or FB page, it’s been remarkably relaxing to not have to stay up to the moment. On the other hand, it might be because many of my wonderful colleagues spent last weekend on the Northern California coast at Fort Ross, celebrating the Fort’s bicentennial, while I coated my driveway and rebuilt yet another section of my deck in triple digit heat.

Still, this is important. I make part of my living using, talking and writing about Social Media. I’m going to facilitate a session at my professional workshop in November where I’ve vowed to create a super race of social media zombies who will Tweet, Facebook, FourSquare, SCVNGR and Tumblr the hell out of the workshop and blanket everyone with hashtags.

So it would be kind of dumb to contribute to a blog that tells you to log off, so DON’T DO THAT. Plus, nearly anything can become addictive– drugs, alcohol, knitting, chocolate (mmm, chocolate!) picking scabs and emailing silly cat videos, among other things. Some people have addictive personalities, and to me it’s kind of disingenuous to conflate the existence and use of a tool or technology as the latest excuse to villify our society’s warts these days. Most of us certainly do not have an Internet disorder, but many of us are guilty of boorish or insensitive behavior in the ways that we may use these tools, and yes, idiot dude in the checkout line ahead of me, I’m talking to you.

It is important though, to not confuse the medium and tools with the messages, and it’s important to recognize that life can and does go on independently of the Internet. The Internet, my iPad, the weird things that Instagram does to my photos and all the rest are merely tools, just like the ones in my shop. I can use them to create useful and wonderful things, or I can hammer ants and annoy loved ones. For better or worse, the Internet is here, it’s a part of our life, but it isn’t our life. Ultimately it’s how you choose to incorporate it in your daily existence.

Besides, if you really want to know what’s dragging down the world, write me privately and I can tell you what the real cause is! I can’t post it here, but it involves an oil substitute, elevator music, the Phillies, comic sans, and the increasing consumption of tomatoes.

Honest!

 

 

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