Category Archives: Online Media

Goodbye Social Media. Hello Visual Communications.

Credit: mediabistro

Credit: mediabistro

In March, we took you through the evolution of social media. We interviewed the experts and got their take on how to succeed in a field that is constantly changing. We talked to a professor and author about how important it is for journalism to adapt to the digital age. We talked to the annual awards ceremony that honors the best in social media and found out what criteria they use to determine their selections. We ended by talking to a top government agency that is creating social media that is out of this world, reaching new audiences and keeping journalistic standards in tact through their social media credential program.

Our goals were to show you that every industry can use these resources and how to catch up if you’ve fallen behind. The bottom line is that these resources make it easier for your community to get engaged and participate, increasing your odds of better meeting their needs and expectations.

We want to thank our interviewees –

Credit: Whiny Pencil

Credit: Whiny Pencil

This month we will focus on another way we communicate – through visual information. We will feature the common, the important and the unique visual communications that are all around you and learn why they were chosen for their intended communication purpose.

We hope you stay with us and share the visual communications you like or want to know more about. See you (pun intended) soon.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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Social media that is out of this world

Democracy depends on participation. Participation depends on transparency. Transparency depends on sharing information. That’s where social media comes in.

Tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are increasing the information you have access to. And public agencies are using these tools as ways to gain and keep public trust by providing that information: early, often and in ways that give you as direct of an experience as possible.

NASA is one of the top government agencies giving you a behind the scenes look at their work and providing you outlets to get involved.

Last year NASA was named the 8th most engaged brand on Twitter. It also won back-to-back Shorty Awards for best government use of social media. Ever since their launch into social media in 2008 with their @MarsPhoenix Twitter account, NASA has proven that they know how to navigate cyber space just as well as outer space. Today, @NASA on Twitter has 6.19 million followers and growing, the most of any federal government agency.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

One of the agency’s most engaging programs, NASA Social provides opportunities for active social media users to learn more about NASA’s missions, people and programs and share this information with their followers.

Earlier this month, we told you about NASA’s Social Media Accreditation program. Active social media users who earn these social media credentials gain unprecedented access to NASA Social events including space launches and their budget roll-out. They are treated the same as traditional media. This program aims to keep the standards of the 4th Estate in tact while gaining more exposure for the work of the agency in the realm of the 5th Estate. It also helps NASA to reach new audiences beyond those of it’s more than 450 different social media accounts.

This week we hear from John Yembrick, NASA’s social media manager. He tells us more about the NASA Socials program, how social media is creating new journalistic standards and shares NASA’s secret to social media success. We hope you enjoy his insights.

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What inspired the NASA Social program?
Government agencies such as NASA can sometimes feel large, cold and walled off. The NASA Social program, formerly the NASA Tweetup program, began as a way to open our doors to the public and provide them with an inside, behind the scenes look at what their space agency is doing. In exchange, we hope that the NASA Social guests get inspired by what they’re seeing and communicate it to their friends and followers on social media.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Entry into a NASA Social is not randomly granted. Can you explain the criteria you used to select participants and why?
There are different types of NASA Social programs, and each has a different requirement. A traditional NASA Social simply asks that you be active on social media. In a sense, it’s not entirely random because we do review people’s accounts to ensure that they’re not only on social media, but that they actively post content. We also review posts to look for inappropriate content in posts that aren’t family friendly or are spam. That said, as long as someone is active on social media, they can be randomly chosen. We don’t pick favorites. We do allow for a few VIP slots for highly influential folks or people who may reach a different demographic. But overall, we don’t judge someone’s value based on the number of followers they have. We often have many first-time NASA Social participants who have small, yet active followings.

We also have a NASA Social Accreditation, which basically badges NASA Social guests the same as news media. For these Socials, we also try our best to mirror the experiences with social guests and journalists. For a Social Accreditation, it’s certainly not random. Folks fill out an application instead of a registration form and are evaluated against the stated criteria. We are generally looking for robustly active users who are followed by audiences that NASA doesn’t fully reach organically.

What other agencies do you think are breaking new ground in using social media?
Overall the Federal Government has made strides to improve the quality (and quantity) of information being shared via social media. A few examples of great things include the U.S. Department of Education’s #askFAFSA office hours that provide amazing customer service to student loan applicants. Also impressive is the U.S. Department of the Interior use of visual imagery to share America’s public lands via social media, especially Instagram. These are just two of many incredible examples of the federal government meeting the challenge of communicating with citizens using social media.

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover  (Credit NASA/JPL-CALTECH)

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover
(Credit NASA/JPL-CALTECH)

An important part of social media is personality, and “having personality” often means offering an opinion. What is the personality NASA is trying to project through its social media?
As an agency, we have over 450 total social media accounts, and with that come a variety of voices. But our overall goal is clean the windows so the public can get a clear view of what their space program is doing. To do this effectively, we aim to write creative posts with compelling images. The @MarsCuriosity account, for example, tweets in the first person, humanizing the rover and helping to make it more relatable. Is the rover tweeting? Of course not. It’s three brilliant women from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. At the end of the day, we represent the agency, so it’s NASA’s work, messages and goals we try and communicate.

How do you balance your followers’ opinions with that of NASA?
NASA doesn’t project an opinion. We’re neutral in a sense. There are members of the public that don’t always agree with the direction of the agency, and many of them aren’t shy about telling us on social media. This, I believe, is a good thing. Before social media, there was very little way we could communicate directly with these people, but today we have a channel to respond to their questions and clear up mis-perceptions. You can’t always change people’s minds, but powerful content often has a way of slowly convincing people the value of space exploration and how it impacts their lives.

What is the most significant way you’ve seen social media change the news industry?
I’m a career government public affairs officer. I spent many years writing and distributing news releases, pitching stories and catering to news media. We had no choice. If the media didn’t report what we were doing, it’s likely no one would know. For an agency like NASA, that is literally making new discoveries daily about the universe and benefiting the world we live in, that’s a huge disservice to the public. I always understood that there’s only so much ink in a newspaper, but the digital world is here, so if you want to know about what NASA’s doing, we can open that door for you. The news industry no longer has to be the single source for information, and that’s made a significant difference to how we’re connecting with the public. We’re telling our own story.

It’s funny, we as an agency still spend a lot of time crafting news releases. That voice – “NASA announced today that…” – isn’t appropriate for social media. Many journalists get their information directly from social media. We see it happen all the time at NASA. Stories get reported that never had a news release associated with them.

In general, what journalistic standards should apply reporting via social media?
That’s a great question, because we often forget the importance of having standards when posting to social media. There are a few simple ones, such as referencing a source and being timely. Credibility matters for any brand, and there’s a lot of responsibility for us to post content in a professional manner. Therefore, we try and use AP Style when posting and not abbreviate unless absolutely necessary. We always avoid slang and poor grammar. Above all, accuracy matters. When we write a news release, 15 people may review it before it goes out. But with a tweet, it might be just one person at their computer. We try our best to ensure we fact check before we publish.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Has social media created any new standards?
We’ve worked to transform the way our public affairs officers think about how they do their jobs. Social media has to be thought of for every NASA discovery and news story. For example, news conferences used to be the standard way we broke big stories. But also, we have to write content in a way that is relatable to our followers. This includes using the right terminology. Internally, we’ll call it an extra vehicular activity or EVA – but everyone else will know it as a spacewalk. That’s important to know if we are to be effective communicators and social media has given us an instant feedback mechanism as our followers modify our tweets and posts to change the wording. It’s examples we can learn from all the time.

Of the 100 most followed Twitter accounts, last year’s Nestivity Study determined that NASA was one of the most engaged brands. What do you think sets NASA’s social media presence apart from the rest?
One word: content. Jason Townsend, my colleague and NASA’s Deputy Social Media Manager, and I are proud of the work we do to share space exploration with the world using social media, but at the end of the day, our job of engaging the public is easier than most. After all, we’re sharing stories that fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. We’re posting images of Earth from the International Space Station and of planets and distant galaxies. Who else can do that?

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Social media is increasingly becoming a political force. Were you expecting the largely supportive reaction NASA received via social media during the government shutdown?
There are few things that make me as proud as when the community posted #ThingsNASAMightTweet during the government shutdown. Our community on social media, which is made up of many NASA Social alumni, is powerful when motivated. The level of support for NASA during the shutdown wasn’t random. It was based on people’s love and commitment for something that inspires them and influences their lives. When a NASA Social concludes, people return to their lives, and often go back to posting about things other than space exploration, and that’s okay. But we like to think we helped make a positive impact on their lives, and that was on display during the shutdown.

What can people look forward to from the NASA Social Program this year?
We’re constantly learning and evolving. There isn’t a day that goes by that Jason and I don’t see a way that we could do things differently and better. I suspect you’ll see us share and package our live programs a little differently to be more engaging. We want to have the NASA Social community at the table with us, asking questions and making suggestions. We want to transform the experience where the public goes from observing what NASA is doing to participating with us.

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We look forward to following all of the great content NASA posts on its social media accounts. If you are an active social media user interested in applying for the NASA’s Social Media Accreditation Program click here for upcoming opportunities. For all the ways you can follow NASA on social media click here.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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The Shorty Awards: Growing at the speed of social media

The Shorty AwardsTelevision has the Emmys. Theater has the Tonys. Film has the Oscars. Social media has The Shorty Awards. Now in its 6th year, The Shorty Awards honor the people and organizations producing real-time short form content on social media sites. In just six years, the Shorty Awards have grown from what was originally anticipated to be a small casual gathering among friends at a bar to a star-studded and highly anticipated event. Presenters and honorees have included Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, George Takei, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman and Shaquille O’Neal, not to mention the millions of people who participate each year by tweeting their nominations.

Each year, The Shorty Awards offers a bevy of nominations divided into categories for “Everyone” and categories for “Brands and Agencies.” Categories that everyone can enter include: Entertainment, News and Media, Technology and Innovation, Arts and Design, Global Issues, Countries and new Community Categories that are created by tweeting a nomination and adding a hashtag for the new category. Categories specific to brands and agencies include: Industry, Twitter, Facebook, Social Network, Mobile, Integrated Media, Social Content, Overall Agency and Overall Brand.

As we continue our series on online and social media, we wanted to end this Awards Season with a bang, or maybe a tweet. This week, we hear from Greg Galant, co-creator of The Shorty Awards. Greg gives you a look inside the history of the awards, the latest  trends, how a site can continue to hold its ground in the ever-evolving world of social media and the fascination with selfies. We hope you enjoy his insight.

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Credit: twibies.com

Credit: twibies.com

How did the idea for the Shorty Awards originate? How did these awards get their start?
The idea came in late 2008. Twitter was still pretty small. It was within its first couple years of its existence, but we noticed there was something different about it than anything that had come before it like Facebook or Friendster or Myspace. People were actually creating good content that they wanted to share with people other than their friends. It was really hard to know who to follow if you were interested in news or sports or politics.

We built the Shorty Awards in two weekends. The idea was to create the first-ever site to crowd source who’s the best in what topic. It was the first site ever where you could vote with a tweet. When we first launched the site, we thought we might get a handful of people together in a bar to celebrate the winners and crank out certificates on our ink jet. Within 24 hours it went so viral it became the top trending term on Twitter. Nobody knew what a Shorty Award was, but they knew they wanted to win one. Also, over that time Twitter tripled in size. It was hard to conceive of Twitter being all that big at the time, but of course it grew like crazy.

Where did the name Shorty Awards come from?
We had an $8 branding budget which is what it costs to buy a domain name on GoDaddy.com. We wanted to think of an original name and the distinguishing thing about Twitter is that it is for short content. Not just Twitter, this had expanded out to all of social media and humanity in general. Depending on the translation the 10 commandments are all under 140 characters as are Twitter and most Facebook status updates, hence the Shorty Awards.

The Shorty Awards are in their 6th year and honor everyone from celebrities, journalists, athletes, politicians, brands, agencies and people from all walks of life. How does someone get nominated for a Shorty Award?
Every year hundreds of thousands of people are nominated. All it takes is for someone to tweet out “I nominate @(fill in name or company) for #(fill in category name/word/key term).” You can also submit nominations via our website. Nominations are for what you do on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. We have categories for animated GIFs and Vines and Instagram. We honor any form of social media.

The winners in each category are ultimately chosen by the members of the Real-Time Academy. Who makes up this academy and what criteria do they use to differentiate the best from the rest?
It’s a whole bunch of luminaries – anyone from Alyssa Milano to Kurt Anderson to Steve Wozniak, you can see them all at RTacademy.org. They look at a few things to choose the winners depending on each category. A lot of it comes down to how good of a job does the nominee does of listening to their audience, creating content to share on social media and how good of a job do they do at talking about a topic in interesting ways. They also look at who is innovating with all of these platforms. I remember the first time I used Twitter back in 2007, I thought it was awful because the people I followed weren’t tweeting anything interesting and weren’t being clever with it. It’s all about who has figured out a clever way to use Twitter or Vine or Instagram or Facebook to really delight their audience or inform them in a unique way.

Credit: AARONYX/FLICKR

Credit: AARONYX/FLICKR

Social media is helping communications of all kinds be more visual. We are moving from using 140 character tweets to using a photo on Instagram or a six second video on Vine. What are your thoughts about social media’s impact on communications becoming more visual?
It’s been kind of a roller coaster. I remember when I was growing up the big criticism of my generation was that nobody was reading or writing anymore, all we were doing is going home and watching TV, which was largely true. We now have had this revolution where the first generation of the web and social media has been all about reading and writing. Look at Twitter and Facebook, which have gotten more visual, but where it started was reading what your friends wrote and writing status messages. It was something inconceivable 20 years ago, but kids were going home and they were reading and writing to communicate with their friends. It’s been sort of a renaissance. Apps now do have audio and photos, but the thrust of it really is people writing text to each other. You’re now seeing it’s becoming a richer place for both reading and writing. It’s hard to understate the value, but there is a lot more visual media getting created too.

There are Shorty Award categories for Social Media’s Best Journalist and Best Newsworthy Photo. How do you think journalistic standards are evoking in the social media realm?
My company, Sawhorse Media, also created another product called Muck Rack giving journalists a place to connect using social media. With that, we’ve seen it grow from 150 journalists to more than 20,000 journalists. Just like with the Shorty Awards, it’s been wild to watch this revolution take place with journalists. What’s interesting is that journalists used to apologize for being on Twitter. Now, we are seeing journalists apologizing for not being on Twitter. The few who aren’t on Twitter know that they should be. It’s transformative because it’s the first time in history journalists can write something without having to go through an editor. With a newspaper they had to ask their editor, and even with blogs they wouldn’t be allowed to blog unless their editor or outlet approved it, which they usually wouldn’t. It’s a completely different mode now where journalists have a direct connection with their audience. They can write whatever they want, as long as they don’t go too far and get fired. I think it’s a good thing because they have a new way to get their name out there and spread their stories. It’s a really rich sea of potential sources and scoops.

What do you think social media does best when it comes to delivering the news? What are some examples of this?
I think one thing that’s really nice about it is that you get to see a bit of how the news sausage is made. You used to have to wait until the story came out. I used to work at CNN.com and I remember it was always tough because you would see a story come across the wire, then get on TV and then on the web like everything else. Now, you can see the news spread instantly. This really struck home for me when there was an earthquake in New York a couple years ago. I saw tweets about an earthquake in Washington D.C. and seconds later I felt the building shake. I would have thought the building was falling down, but having the context that there was just an earthquake in D.C. I put it together, but it took that level of being instantaneous. Faster than the speed of an earthquake.

It’s great for finding out breaking news, but even more interesting is that you can see how a story is evolving especially if you follow journalists. Such a big portion of tweets have links in them so you are also getting into commentary and getting to see what other people are thinking about a story. Are people debunking facts in it? Are they backing it up? Are they questioning sources? Instead of reading the newspaper alone it’s as though you are sitting around with 20 smart people instantly giving their take on what this article means.

Credit: Mashable

Credit: Mashable

Facebook just celebrated its 10th anniversary, quite a feat when it comes to the ever-evolving world of social media. How do social media sites and applications manage to stay relevant with new competition continuously emerging?
To always change. With Facebook,  it is a completely different product than when it launched and it’s a completely different product than what it was five years ago, and I imagine in five years it will be hard to recognize it from what it is today. What they have done really brilliantly is handle that initial reaction to change by humans and particularly internet users, you look at this negative backlash. I remember when Facebook launched the newsfeed, the largest Facebook group was “I hate the newsfeed.” Facebook has had the courage to try and change their product to be more relevant to what they think people want and what they will want in the future. Having the guts not to just do what the crowd wants in the short term, but also knowing when to listen when you actually have screwed up, which everybody does and change. Facebook has been able to get that mix right and I think that’s why they are still doing great 10 years later, despite being called a fad for 9 of these years.

“Selfie” was declared Word of the Year for 2013. What do you believe is the fascination with this particular use of social media?
We added the “Selfie of the Year ” category this year and I’m still trying to understand what it all means. For 20 years people thought that video conferencing was the way of the future. Even now we can video conference with Facetime or Skype, but not a lot of people do it because once you know what the person looks like it doesn’t really add that much to just hear someone talk. I think the selfie is like the still video conference. It goes back to what I was saying about writing. It’s a form of creation where instead of just consuming things with TV or newspapers, people can express themselves and create something to share.

What’s on the horizon for social media? Are there any new sites, applications or other trends that are on the verge of becoming the next big thing?
The trend of short-form video like we have seen on Vine and Instagram will continue to play out. I think this kind of flip on social media, making things more ephemeral and making things anonymous is going to be pretty powerful. Of course there is Snapchat, which has grown a lot and other apps like Secret where you can post anonymously to your graph of contacts. For users it’s not unlike Twitter or Facebook in that the user doesn’t use it to text each other one-on-one, but to share an idea or a photo or a video with everybody they know. What they are posting isn’t anything more inappropriate than the type of stuff people are posting to Facebook – selfies, photos of their meals, things like that. It’s a funny world that we live in that anything you put on the web is going to be on the web forever or at least until one of these sites go out of business, and with billions of dollars in the bank, they are not going out of business any time soon. We are now a whole generation of people who are posting stuff that is going to live online forever and potentially this is how our great great grandchildren will remember us, by some selfie we took or whatever meal we just ate and took a photo of. I think that this generation using Snapchat and apps like it might know what they are doing more than we do. They know that there is some stuff that they want to write for the public record that will stick around forever, but there is a lot of stuff that I don’t want to share like the average phone conversation with a friend, I’m not going to record it, it’s just going to happen.

Credit: The Shorty Awards

Credit: The Shorty Awards

The 6th Annual Shorty Awards will be held this year on April 7th in New York City and will be livestreamed on the web. What can viewers look forward to?
I can’t tell you that, you’ll just have to tune in. The main reason I can’t tell you is because I have no idea. We don’t know who the winners are yet, they’re announced that night and so much is driven by the talent that shows up to it. That’s really the fun thing about it. It’s not like an industry award like the Oscars or some professional group award where it’s just a bunch of ad executives. Because we have so many different categories you’re getting celebrities, but under the same roof we are getting people who built their whole career out of social media. We’re getting people who are foodies, people who know science really well, astronauts and sports stars. Social media is so broad and encompassing, so we are able to pull all these people in under one roof. It’s just a really fun celebration. I learn something new every year.

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Make sure to turn in to find out what happens at this year’s Shorty Awards on April 7th. Click here to receive an email notifying you when the livestream of the ceremony is available or to purchase your ticket if you will be in the NYC area.

Check out the finalists and let us know who you thinks deserves to take home a Shorty Award?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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New Media – Will it Better Journalism?

Credit: John Pavlik

Credit: John Pavlik

New media, also known as social media, has revolutionized how we communicate. These changes have also spread to our professional communicators – journalists.

In 1980 CNN made history for being the first 24-hour news station. Today, we get our news in real time via social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. While we may have grown up getting our news from the nightly anchor or stories in the morning paper written by reporters, today we are getting it from journalists as well as bloggers, friends, family, organizations and even corporations that we follow online.  Here are 10 ways journalism has changed just in the last decade.

In the late 1990’s, more and more newspapers created online versions as more and more of us were accessing the internet from home. In 2001, verteran of the journalism industry, John Pavlik wrote a guide for journalists and the public to help them navigate the rough waters of a new age. Years before the height of most social media, Pavlik’s book Journalism and New Media explores new technology and its potential for the news, and asks the pivotal question – will it better journalism?

Pavlik is an author and professor of journalism. He has served as the chair of the editorial board for Television Quarterly, the journal of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as a professor and the executive director of the Center for New Media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and as founding director of the School of Communication at San Diego State University. Today, he is a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

This week as we start our exploration of online and social media we hear from Pavlik and discuss whether or not his predictions in Journalism and New Media have come true in the years since it was first published. We also get his thoughts on social media, citizen journalism, and the next challenges for the news industry. We welcome his insight.

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Credit: Tangient LLC

Credit: Tangient LLC

What have been the challenges for journalism to adapt to new social media resources?
As practiced in most of the United States since at least the era of the Penny Press of the Colonial period, journalism has been largely a one-way process of communication, from the journalist and her or his news organization to the public.  Letters to the editor or other forms of feedback have been a small part of the process of public engagement and interaction.  The rise of the Internet and the emergence of social media have challenged journalism as it has been traditionally practiced to become much more inclusive of contributions from the public and a dialog between journalists and members of the public, namely in the form of social media and mobile media.  Citizens and other members of the public have demonstrated they have a strong inclination to share photos, video and text messages via social media, sometimes including news and other journalism-related content and commentary.  Whether journalism has embraced this development, the public has become highly engaged in a lively social media discourse, often about or including news and news-related content.  This has sometimes been difficult for journalism to accept or accommodate, as it often has meant a reduction in the control that traditional news media have over the news agenda.

Your book Journalism and New Media was written in 2001. One of the main arguments in it is that new media can revitalize news gathering and reengage a distrustful and alienated citizenry. This was before the creation and height of many of the social media resources most of us now use. With the rise of more social media options, have your thoughts changed or been confirmed over the years?
 New media still present the potential to reengage the public. In many ways, in fact, social media and mobile media have led to a public that is often highly engaged in matters of public importance and the news.  In the Arab Spring, for instance, members of the public often used mobile and social media to share photos, video and text messages about developments.  From Egypt to Tunisia, Bahrain to Syria, citizen journalists were often the most frequent source of news and information.

Traditional news media and journalists have sometimes been reluctant to embrace social media, mobile media and citizen journalism or citizen reporting.  Of course, sometimes citizen reporting can prove unreliable, and that is a serious concern.  But, it can also be a vital part of journalism in an age of networked citizens.

Credit: Digital Communities

Credit: Digital Communities

With the advancements in social media, we have seen the rise of the citizen journalist. Do you think citizen journalism dilutes the industry or benefits it? Why?
I think citizen journalists, or citizen reporters, complement the role of the professional journalist.  Many professional news organizations have dramatically cut their staffs, especially foreign bureaus in recent years.  Consequently, many professional news media have far fewer resources to cover many stories and breaking news around the world.  Citizen journalists or citizen reporters can help to fill in the gaps.  I often use the term citizen reporter because in many cases to describe members of the public as journalists is inaccurate or overstating their role.  Members of the public often lack the training to operate as a journalist.  But, equipped with a mobile device connected to a network, a citizen can act as a reporter, documenting news as it happens, taking photos or shooting video and sharing it with a wider community.  With literally billions of citizens around the world equipped with network-enabled digital mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets), the public today can operate as an extraordinary news gathering force.  Oxford’s Bill Dutton calls the public in this role the Fifth Estate (complementary to the professional journalist as Fourth Estate).

 In Journalism and New Media you also acknowledge that new media presents many threats to the values and standards of journalism? Which values and standards are the most at risk? How do we protect them in today’s digital world?
One of the greatest threats developments in new media raise is the pressure to produce news and commentary in real-time and on a continuous basis.  This has contributed to problems in accuracy (i.e., errors) and fact-checking.  The problem has been exacerbated by reductions in staff and other resources for news media, as they have struggled to develop vibrant new business or funding models to sustain robust journalism in the 21st century.

Another problem fueled by digital developments lies at the nexus of freedom or speech, or the public’s right to know, and the public’s right to privacy. Digital developments have led to a dramatic increase in surveillance and tracking of citizens, whether by governments, media or others. Governments have also sought to restrict journalistic enterprises, especially their sources. Striking a balance between the First and Fourth Amendment may be one of the greatest challenges of the digital age.

Credit: OnMilwaukee.com

Credit: OnMilwaukee.com

On the positive side, what do you think are some of the best social media sites for news reporting?
For many members of the public, especially in the U.S., Facebook and Twitter have emerged as important social media sources of news and information, whether from friends, family or professional news media.  One of the less-well-known social media that plays an interesting role from a journalism perspective is Storify. A look at Storify on 27 February 2014 at 6pm EST shows a series of interesting stories. Among the more notable news-related items are protests in Venezuela, smog in Beijing, and social media reactions to Arizona’s SB 1062 veto.

Instagram and Snapchat are also social media worth considering in the future of journalism mix, as they are especially popular among youth who use them relentlessly to share photos and sometimes news.

Who are some of the journalists or media organizations that you see as examples of maintaining standards on new media the best?
Among the traditional news media, certainly The New York Times does a superb job of maintaining standards with regard to using new media. From video to augmented reality, the Times has engaged the public effectively with emerging new media. Internationally, TheGuardian.com has been impressive in its blending of quality traditional news values with the unique capabilities afforded in the digital, networked age. In addition to breaking the NSA secret surveillance story, TheGuardian.com has used data-driven reporting highly effectively.  One of its most important investigations involved an algorithm-based analysis of Twitter posts to help tell the story of the Tottenham Riots.

Less well-known is ProPublica, a digital news venture that has established standards of excellence in journalism, particularly in data-driven reporting.

Credit: Eucles Daily

Credit: Eucles Daily

Online and social media allow breaking news to be shared instantly. Being the first to break a story is a prized position. However, the rush to be first to cover a story could comprise journalism standards. What is your advice to the reader about evaluating news when it first breaks?
My advice to all citizens is to never rely on a single source for news and never automatically accept what you see, hear or otherwise experience in the media. Always maintain a critical perspective and check multiple, diverse sources on any important news.

What advice do you have for aspiring journalists in the digital age?
Today is a time for innovation. Digital, networked technologies have generated a wealth of opportunities to enable aspiring journalists to create new, reliable and ethical methods of reporting, storytelling and public engagement, and to potentially bring those innovations to the world at large. Bring your ideas forward in a way that advances vigorous journalism, supports the First Amendment, and respects individual privacy. Remember the words of Mr. Dooley:  Newspapers should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

If you have an idea for doing quality journalism in a new way, explore crowd funding online resources and see what you might be able to do to get support for your creative idea.

What do you foresee being next challenge and possible solutions the journalism industry will face?
One of the most vexing challenges for traditional journalism organizations is to develop viable funding mechanisms to support quality news gathering, storytelling and public engagement. Digital, networked technologies, especially mobile media, point the way to that future. The question is whether traditional news media industry leadership will be bold enough to pursue that future with vigor and not let risk aversion drag the news industry into irrelevancy and obsolescence or a specialized service for only the elite who are able to pay the high-price of quality journalism.

A near-term opportunity is to build innovative strategies for using mobile, wearable and other emerging technologies (e.g., drones, algorithms, Big Data) as well as social media to re-invent journalism. The challenge is to transform journalism from the long-standing one-to-many paradigm to a many-to-many paradigm where interacting with the public isn’t what happens after news has been reported but is a continuous and fundamental part of an ongoing process of engaged journalism.

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We look forward to watching the 4th Estate continue to evolve in the digital age. What ways to do you think journalism can use new media to save itself?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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Online and Social Media: The emergence of the 5th Estate

Credit: LIST My Social Media LLC

Credit: LIST My Social Media LLC

Last month, we looked at a history of the 4th Estate in images.We ended the month by featuring newsworthy photos and their stories shared on social media. This month, we take a further look at the evolution and the future of the 4th Estate as we explore how it has been affected by the emergence of what is now being termed the 5th Estate of online resources.

Online and social media give you instant news gratification. These resources also give you the ability to watch a story as it develops, provide your own commentary, share your reactions and engage in a dialogue with the online community.

Credit: ESOMAR

Credit: ESOMAR

The ability to report news has given rise to the term “citizen journalist” – every day people sharing newsworthy stories, photos and videos via their smart phone, tablet or computer.

As we shared last month, citizen journalism also allows people directly affected by injustice to report their first hand accounts. We have seen this play out recently in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements.

While citizen journalists are helping to deliver the news as it is happening by being in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time depending on the news being broken), they have encroached on the territory previously occupied by professional journalists. Since 2008, 15,000 newspaper journalists have been laid off across the county. Veteran journalist and CBS correspondent, Morley Safer stated “I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.”

Beyond this impact is the critical question – how do journalistic standards hold up in the digital world comprised of citizens? One answer may be to have citizen journalists become certified or apply for credentials. NASA developed a social media credential program  in order to uphold professional standards while gaining exposure for the work of the agency. To date NASA has invited 300 of their followers with their social media credentials to cover events.

Credit: Web Pro NEws

Credit: Web Pro NEws

As more news publications close their doors or open new ones solely online, we wonder if a healthy mix of traditional and new media will be what saves the 4th Estate from the 5th Estate?

Questions like these will affect how we can continue to be smart consumers of information. We look for answers and predictions for the future this month by talking to professionals in social media and journalism. We will learn how adapting to social media can help journalists cast a wider net to obtain information and sources, create new opportunities to engage audiences and can even land new jobs. We will also learn about current trends and what’s on the horizon for social media.

We hope you will stay social with us by sharing your comments and questions and by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

What’s your point of view? Do you think social media is helping or hurting the 4th Estate?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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Dr. 4WARD

True or false: 90 percent of the data in the world was created in the last two years?

True. That’s right, the Egyptians, Romans and Ming Dynasty combined have nothing on us when it comes to generating data, or “content” as it’s often called now. The 4th Estate’s “news” is social media’s content generation. Look around you, everyone is doing “it.” They are blogging, posting, tweeting, emailing, texting, Instagraming, forwarding, sharing, liking. The desire to tell one’s story is as old as time, illustrated in cave etchings throughout the world.

(Credit: Mike Chum)

(Credit: Mike Chum)

Previously, your story – if it was covered at all – had to “make the news,” meaning it had to be determined worthy of coverage by TV, radio and newspapers. The Collaborative Services blog focused on the news – the 4th Estate – last month. This month, we focus on part of its family tree that is expanding rapidly – social media.

Not all social media is traditionally newsworthy or up to the journalistic standards that the 4th estate demands, but it’s a driving force in the progression of news bypassing papers and journalists and being broadcast directly by the people creating new content.

How we communicate affects how we participate in everything – relationships, communities and government.

To this topic we welcome the insights of Dr William J Ward, a professor of social media at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication. Known on his website and social media as “Dr. 4Ward” (sounds like “Dr. Forward”), Ward’s field of study is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s impact has already been massive.

Since the first “weblogs” began appearing about ten years ago, Ward says there has been a fundamental shift in the way people communicate, and it’s continued to grow and evolve. A sort of hybrid of the website and chat room, blogs allowed people to write whatever they wanted, and readers to respond and connect in the speed of the invisible WiFi that now connects us all to each other. This has been taken to even greater heights with platforms like Twitter and Facebook, making us even more accesible, and the evolution toward our brand new social media world all the more immediate.

Prehistoric etchings from the Magura Cave in Bulgaria (Credit: Novinite.com)

Prehistoric etchings from the Magura Cave in Bulgaria (Credit: Novinite.com)

What this means is that people are more connected now than ever before, and have a world of information at their fingertips. In the 1990s, chatrooms were amazing because they allowed you discuss the latest Microsoft software with strangers across the world. Twenty years later, Twitter connects directly with Bill Gates himself.

As to how this matters, Ward says you only have to look at the Arab Spring to see the potential of social media. Most Americans may still think of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms as a tool for broadcasting opinions on food and funny pictures of cats, but Tunisians and Egyptians used it to help overthrow dictators.

Bill Gates Twitter

Social media was born and raised in front of a mass audience. We’ve all watched interfaces like Friendster, LiveJournal and MySpace take off like a rocket, only to be discarded like a late night Tweet when something new came along.  Gaining a perspective on a relatively novel and ever changing technology can prove an illusive prospect. But Ward has dug in and studied social media like few others, incorporating it into teaching, examining how its been used in ads, and testing its limits. He said he still sees untapped potential for the technology, and believes it will continue to change our world.

Dr. Ward spoke with the Collaborative Services blog about the past and future of social media, sharing what he thinks social media says about communication in the 21st Century.

Social Media seemed to come on the scene really suddenly about ten years ago, and transform how people spread and receive information. Can you talk about what you see as the origins of Social Media? What do you consider the first Social Media platform?
Blogging was one of the earliest forms of Social Media.  Web 2.0 and RSS allowed people to connect with people by subscribing to their blogs, commenting on their blogs, and even adding people to blogrolls creating a conversation and social network around blogging. Twitter was introduced as a micro-blog when it first came out in deference to the importance of the blogging concept around creating, sharing, and engaging around content.

We’ve seen a lot in the news about how political campaigns are utilizing social media to keep their supporters engaged. Can you think of any other forms of civic engagement where Social Media has played a major role, particularly in engaging people who may not have otherwise gotten involved through other means in the past?
Social Media helps people to do digitally what they already enjoy doing in the real world… connecting, learning, communicating, creating, collaborating. Thanks to Social Media people are becoming more aware of causes and opportunities that they may never have heard of previously and then are able to organize around what is most important to them.

What did you see as the tipping point for Social Media – when did it penetrate mainstream culture?
The tipping point of Social Media was during the Arab Spring when mainstream media began reporting on the importance of social communications for change, rather than just for sharing silly memes.

Protestors in Egypt during the Arab Spring.Credit: NATO Review

Protestors in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
Credit: NATO Review

What significant changes have you seen – positive or negative – in the way people communicate, and/or disseminate information as a result of the advent of Social Media?
People used to write in longer form a lot more when blogging began. People were writing 1,000 words on blogs. When we moved to status updates on Facebook our posts became shorter. Then micro-blogs like Twitter came along and shortened our updates even further to 140 characters. Now we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication with social-sharing sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Vine.

Credit: PCWorld

Credit: PCWorld

We are also being overloaded with data. According to IBM, everyday we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data–so much so that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years alone. Data analytics is one of the ways people are using to sort through the fire hose of information to transform data to actionable insights.

What are some examples of successful marketing campaigns that have utilized Social Media?
Social media has become integrated into internal and external communications. Companies that are transforming their cultures to harness the advantages of social media will be the real winners. Ford is an example of a company that has been a leader.

Credit: Online Social Media

Credit: Online Social Media

What were some early lessons people took from Social Media when it was still in its infancy? What are some more current lessons users are still learning?
Blogging, social media, new technologies are really just about people connecting. Some people get caught up in the shiny tool or the data and forget that it is about people.

As a Social Media professor, you are obviously very engaged in Social Media, both personally and professionally. How do you find it helpful to you? Do you use it to communicate with students and colleagues? For self-promotion? Both?
Social Media allows me to connect with and learn from the smartest people in the world every day. It allows me to learn with industry thought leaders and innovators to keep up on best practice and see what’s coming next and then integrate this learning directly into the classroom. Social media makes me a better teacher because I never stop learning and experimenting and I am able to help students learn how to do the same. Digital and social technologies will continue to change and many will come and go, but lifelong learning never stops. We need to teach students how not to be afraid to experiment. Social Media is part of a teaching and learning paradigm shift as the world literally became our classroom. Classrooms are as big as we allow them to be. I try to create a sense of fun and adventure to help students be fearless in trying new things and by seeing trial and error as part of the learning experience.

Students at Syracuse University (Credit: Syracuse University)

Students at Syracuse University (Credit: Syracuse University)

You have a presentation called “Teaching with Twitter.” Can you describe how you teach with Twitter?
Social Media is about continuous learning and collaboration. With Twitter we have a class hashtag that we use as a live back channel during class and as a way to share and stay connected outside of class throughout the week. We also use Twitter advanced search to find innovators and thought leaders to follow and connect with. Twitter lists help us to organize the fire hose of information and we also use data analytics to measure the impact of our efforts on Twitter such as Tweetreach, Social Mentions and Hashtracking and social influence measures like Klout and Kred. We use Twitter but also use many other social tools and digital platforms from LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ to content curation platforms like Pinterest, and Pearltrees. We use the Hootsuite social media dashboard continuously to integrate all are social media channels and students earn Hootsuite Social Media certification as part of the class. Twitter is a great way to share ideas.

Credit: Texas Tech University

Credit: Texas Tech University

As a social media consultant to a lot of industries, do you see it more suited to some sectors than others? Are there any industries that don’t use Social Media that should?
Business-to-business (B2B) has been slower to adopt social media than Business-to-consumer (B2C) but has even more potential because B2B is built on relationships. Social media is about finding the best tools and digital platforms for connecting with a specific audience. There is no one size fits all.

Credit: Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies

Credit: Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies

How does a company measure return on investment (ROI) through Social Media?
ROI for social media depends on the strategy and what you are trying to accomplish and needs to be measured against those goals.  ROI could be based on awareness and engagement or it could drive consideration and sales. At the end of the day, if bottom line sales do not happen then a company will eventually be out of business.

Where do you see Social Media headed? How will it continue to morph with more traditional marketing and communication techniques?
Social Media will become integrated into all our communications, devices, and product experiences and will just be a part of how we connect and communicate. Social Media will become just how work gets done and cease to be talked about as a stand alone channel or tool.

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Thank for taking to the time to share your insights, Dr. Ward. We look forward to moving 4Ward with you as social media continues to evolve.

Elizabeth Malloy, Associate

Collaborative Services, Inc.

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“A new way of thinking”

Follow Scott Lewis on Twitter (@vosdscott) and you’ll wonder how he has time to get anything done. Regularly tweeting dozens of times a day and engaging in spirited exchanges with followers, Lewis appears to live much of his life online. He does get plenty done in the real world though, often to the chagrin of San Diego’s civic leadership. The Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit news site Voice of San Diego, Lewis views himself as a watchdog first and foremost, taking a hard look at local government, schools, infrastructure – anything that spends your tax dollars.

(Credit: HollisBC)

(Credit: HollisBC)

To Lewis, his presence on social media reflects the larger mission of Voice of San Diego (VoSD), which is less about breaking news than generating a discussion. All of VoSD’s reporters are encouraged to engage in social and new media, sometimes offering a stronger point of view than people might be used to hearing from the traditional media. In the changing media landscape, Lewis said this kind of approach is imperative. People curate their news more, using social and new media to read only what their interested in. In order to attract a new reader, a more interactive approach is vital.

Lewis spoke to the Collaborative Services blog about how he uses social media, and how believes it’s changing journalism in general. As a non-profit, online only news source, VoSD has always been different than your traditional newspaper or broadcast outlet, and therefore may have had a head start on embracing new media, but he said he sees no reason others can’t utilize it as well. And as more and more leaders and organizations use social media to circumvent the usual outlets, he said they better get on board.

– – –

Your news organization, Voice of San Diego, is unique in its own way because it’s an online-only, non-profit news site. Can you talk about how Social Media has helped your unconventional site get attention and readers?
As you point out, we’re non-conventional. Our goal isn’t necessarily just to get readers to our site. As a non-profit, our mission is to do investigative journalism and provide San Diegans with information they need to be advocates for good government and social progress. So really, we are free to use social media not just to link to our stuff, but as another tool to carry out our mission. Often that can simply mean using it to report news or information alone.

Can you talk about how you engage readers on social media? How has it been effective for VoSD?
All of our reporters use it to share their work, links they think are important, insights they have on all kinds of issues and to ask for sources or information in their reporting. In addition, the feedback we’ve gotten on social media has led to stories, or even to important corrections or things we’ve had to hold ourselves accountable to.

(Credit: instantshift.com)

(Credit: instantshift.com)

Are there any ways it isn’t effective?
Social media can be so engaging that you have to remind yourself it doesn’t necessarily represent the view of the entire populace. It’s like a dashboard for the community conversation but it’s still not ubiquitous.

How can it be effective for more traditional news outlets, like a paper, a TV station, and their respective websites?
People are creating their own personal bundles of information using social media. For instance, they are no longer just watching a channel and letting it serve them what it may. They’re DVRing shows they want to watch. The same thing is happening with news. Twitter and Facebook are allowing people to subscribe directly to the journalists they want to follow. It’s allowing them to store stories they want to read for later. It’s allowing them to construct their menu of news more perfectly for their interests. So if you produce any kind of content or information, it’s not like social media is a different medium you’ll have to manage, it’s a new way of thinking and you will have to be a part of it. You can’t rely on people simply to just watch your channel or listen to your station (except in the car, but even that will be disrupted by on-demand listening – twitter for radio!).

What is the most significant way you’ve seen social media change the news industry?
It’s hard to say. The most interesting thing I saw was when the Israeli Defense Forces tweeted their bombings and propaganda. It was mesmerizing. Twitter has so transformed news it’s really impossible for me to decide what’s most significant. It’s now the blood informing and framing thousands of major discussions every single day.

The Israeli Defense Forces tweeted during a military strike last November. (Credit: Slate)

The Israeli Defense Forces tweeted during a military strike last November. (Credit: Slate)

Most of VoSD’s reporters have an active presence on Social Media, especially Twitter, often discussing stories they are working on. How do you balance this with the competitive nature of the news industry, where most reporters are trying to “break stories,” and be the first to report on something?
Scoops are really not the top priority. We strive to deliver the best service, not necessarily the fastest. Yes, it’s a rush to get something first sometimes but this is not a concern for me. I prefer they take the time to engage with their audience and to cultivate trust on social media.

An important part of Social Media is personality, and “having personality” often means offering an opinion. How do you balance that with the ideals of reporter objectivity?
We recognize and accept that our journalists are human and have views. We don’t believe in objectivity. Our bias is for a better San Diego. The schools can be better, the roads can be better, the environment can be cleaner and the economy stronger. We demand they be fair and that they listen to their detractors. But yes, social media only works if you treat it like a conversation, not a writing exercise. You write as you would speak, knowing that it’s an open mic and your words can travel very far.

In general, what journalistic standards should apply to Social Media? Has it created any new standards?
You shouldn’t have different standards for social media. At all. It’s simply a form of broadcast with amazing avenues for interactivity.

VoSD has a different format and business model than print or broadcast, but it’s still “traditional” in that it has reporters and editors. You’ve spoken before about how much of the power of Social Media is in how it allows people, companies and other organizations to go around traditional media to broadcast their message. In that context, what do you see as the role of traditional media moving forward in a world where leaders don’t need it to broadcast their stories?
With resources diminishing to public service journalism, we can’t be stenographers for people trying to transmit information. They will have to learn how to transmit their own information more and more. Journalism operations need to focus on what people won’t do: Investigate themselves. Our role is to a) make sense of what people say and b) find out what they don’t want to say. The only way professional journalism survives is if it proves itself as such a vital, interesting and beloved service that people are moved to pay for it. Advertising, simply, isn’t cutting it any more.

A Voice of San Diego "Meeting of the Minds" informational event in December, 2012. (Credit: Voice of San Diego)

A Voice of San Diego “Meeting of the Minds” informational event in December, 2012.
(Credit: Voice of San Diego)

Since most Social Media outlets are free, a lot of people use  them. How do you break through the white noise of Social Media?
Have a niche, a specialty and a unique voice. Work hard to interact and be valuable but not redundant and obnoxious. Like a radio broadcaster or a writer, success on social media is also about talent. It takes practice and it’s like a game in many ways. You have ups and downs and you try to progress.
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Thank you Scott for sharing your insights on the rapidly changing and often connected worlds of social media and journalism. We look forward to following the Voice of San Diego as it continues to engage its readers on the web and in everyday life.

Elizabeth Malloy, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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The News From Your Home Turf

Arguably the most profound effect that social media has had is this – it has changed media from sending information out into sending information back and forth between customers, citizens and the media. Restaurants can’t advertise on Yelp! without risking the wrath of a disgruntled customer. Celebrities can’t plug their new comic book movie without fans on Twitter demanding to know why the hero’s hair color has changed. Reporters know when they publish a story, their research is subject to scrutiny in the comments section.

Some companies have been wary of the back and forth that social media generates. But for Patch.com, it’s part of their DNA. The network of hyper local news websites relies heavily on user-generated content like photos, blogs and breaking news updates.

(Credit: Patch.com)

(Credit: Patch.com)

In 2007, disappointed in the lack of online news about his neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut, then Google executive Tim Armstrong teamed up with his colleague Jon Brod and media veteran Warren Webster to create Patch Media. The team generated an innovative business model in which all editors and some contributors are trained journalists, but much of the content comes from engaged residents who are invested in local issues.

Now, more than 1,000 communities have a Patch.com site. Whether it’s a school committee decision, a power outage from a storm, or your neighbor’s tips on gardening, Patch aims to capture the spirit of a community from the ground up. So much so that its news is termed “hyper local.”

The Collaborative Services blog spoke with Patch co-founder Warren Webster about how his company is expanding in an age when most news organizations are contracting, and how social media has made their business model possible.

In recognition of the rise of social media, Time Magazine named "YOU" the person of the year in 2006. (Credit: Time Magazine)

In recognition of the rise of social media, Time Magazine named “YOU” the person of the year in 2006. (Credit: Time Magazine)

1. You began your career in the print newspaper and magazine world. In what ways is a Patch site like a traditional newspaper’s website, and how is it different?

Our goal from the beginning of Patch has been to add something new and needed to a community, not just to recreate the local newspaper.  Patch offers residents the most important news stories and events, which is similar to what a newspaper site does, except that our news and events are a blend of our own original reporting, contributed content from residents, and curated news collected from other sources.  A newspaper tends to be a one-way conversation: Reporter to reader.  Patch is a community platform where there are many opportunities for conversation:  resident to resident, business to resident, resident to Patch, etc.  Patch is also different because it is real-time, 24/7, and if something important is happening in a Patch neighborhood – storms, power outages, school closings, for example – you’ll know about it immediately.  Our mobile sites and emails are among the most popular ways people use Patch, so you might even say that we’re not simply a website.

2. What is the significance of the name “Patch”?

The name Patch represents your home turf, your patch of land, the place where you live.  Plus it’s kind of fun, and that’s an important element of our brand.

3. How does Patch use social media in its reporting, marketing, and reader engagement?

Social media is intertwined throughout Patch.  For example, each Patch site has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, and these are substantial sources of traffic.  We use social media to promote our best content and things like contests and polls.  To us, social media is just another way for people to interact with Patch, in addition to the site, mobile, email, and so on.

4. Are there local issues you think Patch sites are better suited to cover than traditional news media, including local community newspapers?

I believe Patch has done some of its best work when something is happening fast, in real time, because we can react extremely quickly to keep people informed.  This happens every day on Patch, but one notable example is Hurricane Sandy.  More than 300 of our Patch communities were affected by the storm, and we had over 450 Patch editors and contributors covering it.  Our staff posted over 12,000 storm-related articles, including essential power, traffic and shelter updates on the site, on mobile, and through social media.  Residents themselves added over 50,000 comments and updates, and over 5,000 photos.  When power is out, Patch is still on, and we saw a 300% increase in mobile traffic and a 700% increase in mobile app downloads that week.  Patch is truly a lifeline.

Patch.com helped East Coasters share what was happening to their communities even when the power went out during Hurricane. (Credit: The New York Times)

Patch.com helped East Coasters share what was happening to their communities even when the power went out during Hurricane Sandy last October. (Credit: The New York Times)

5. When it comes to getting the word out about local events and issues, what methods has Patch found the most effective?

One of the great things about Patch is that people can interact with it however is most convenient for them.  Some people think of Patch as local email updates, while others use the site.  I think it’s the combination that is most effective.

6. To what extent does social media engagement drive what you cover? If certain stories are getting more comments or Tweets, are more resources put into it?

We definitely monitor closely what might be a hot topic on social media sites, and our editors are actively engaged in conversation with residents on these sites, so I would say yes, it definitely drives coverage to some extent.

Twitter helps editors track interest in stories (Credit: Twitter)

Twitter helps editors track interest in stories (Credit: Twitter)

7. Many Patch contributors are local residents who are invested in their community, but may or may not be trained as reporters. Do you think this was possible before social media?

Most, if not all of our local editors are either experienced journalists or journalism school graduates, or both.  But I would say that their ability to navigate the world of social media is a critical and necessary skill for our staff.  Contributors who are not full-time Patch staffers (such as bloggers, for example) might not have the same journalism credentials but bring a fantastic variety of voices and expertise to the sites.

8. What are the incentives to using residents as content providers? Are there any challenges?

Our local editors and the regional editors who manage them are all paid, full-time employees.  In addition to their original reporting we actively encourage contributions from residents in the form of bloggers, or simply allowing people to upload events, photos, videos, and other types of content directly to the site.  When we built in the blogging system, we were amazed by how quickly it was adopted.  We now have over 35,000 bloggers signed up.  There are many people in every community who value the opportunity to share their thoughts, ideas or expertise on things with a wider audience, and that is the primary incentive.  That said, we are always working to remind and encourage people to contribute more often, as it makes the sites more vibrant and active.

(Credit: Santee, CA Patch)

(Credit: Santee, CA Patch)

9. News organizations have historically had a difficult time convincing advertisers that ad space on a website is just as valuable as in print. How does Patch attract advertisers? How do you convince perspective ad buyers that online and mobile ads are valuable? Does social media play a role?

News organizations made a mistake early on, in my opinion, by devaluing their online offerings, giving them away in many cases as added-value or bundling them with print.  So it has been an uphill climb for them to drive up the value of their online display ads over time.  For us, it really comes down to one thing:  ROI for the advertiser.  If we can show a business owner that advertising online will drive offline, local behavior — visiting a store, buying something, attending an event, whatever action they are looking to inspire — we will have a customer for life who is willing to pay to be on Patch.  And we’re seeing significant success.  Our ad revenue more than doubled and is on a great trajectory so far in 2013.

10. How does your company decide when to give a town its own Patch? Is it based on population, engagement, something else?

Ultimately we feel like every community needs Patch.  When we first built Patch back in 2008, we knew we could launch anywhere.  As a start-up, still privately funded, we wanted to be very smart about where we went first.  So we looked at the elements of a community that would likely make us most successful as quickly as possible.  It was both an art and a science.  We built a 52 point algorithm weighing factors like household income, retail spend in the town, density of businesses, ranking of the local public high school (a strong school system likely has a very engaged group of parents supporting it), voter turn out and population.  We ran every census tract in America — all 66,000 — through the algorithm, plotted them on a map, looked for clusters (important for the way we manage the sites) and that gave us a list to start with.  Our first three towns, launched in February, 2009, were Maplewood, South Orange, and Millburn-Short Hills, NJ.  And now we have over 900 in 22 states.

An award-winning photo from the Huntington, NY Patch (Credit: Huntington Patch)

An award-winning photo from the Huntington, NY Patch (Credit: Huntington Patch)

Elizabeth Malloy, Associate

Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Going Global Without Leaving Your Home

(Credit: cnet.com)

(Credit: cnet.com)

In February, we set out to meet the press, whoever that may be in 2013. For hundreds of years, the 4th Estate has been an integral part of democratic societies around the world, rooting out corruption, exposing injustice, and giving people the facts they need to make informed decisions in their communities and the voting booth

Recently though, the 4th Estate has undergone some drastic changes. Traditional business models are collapsing, and the idea of just who is a “reporter” has become scrambled. The Internet ushered in much of this change as it became prevalent in the mid 1990s. In fact, the first place to publish the name Monica Lewinsky was not CNN or the Washington Post, but the website Drudge Report.

A Drudge Report headline from Jan. 17, 1998. (Credit: Drudge Report)

A Drudge Report headline from Jan. 17, 1998. (Credit: Drudge Report)

Then, as the millennium turned and the squeals and squawks of dial-up modems gave way to lightweight wireless notebook computers and eventually smart phones, a whole new platform emerged that would make the dissemination of information quicker and easier than ever before: Social Media. Also called New Media. Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, YouTube and thousands of other sites made it easier than ever for the observations, opinions and photos of just about anybody to make their way to you. Traditional news outlets have worked to incorporate these technologies, with comments sections, iReporters and hashtag promotions. Others, like Patch.com have gone even further, and built it into their business model.

Citizen journalists, or "iReporters" have become a staple on CNN, bringing a personal take on major stories. (Credit: CNN.com)

Citizen journalists, or “iReporters” have become a staple on CNN, bringing a personal take on major stories. (Credit: CNN.com)

It goes beyond journalism. Social media has allowed people, organizations and businesses to get the word out and generate a following directly. No newspaper, no reporter, no nobody needed for your story to be told. A global coffee shop bulletin board, new media enables aspiring musicians to reach a wide audience without label and radio support, politicians to speak directly to voters without costly advertising buys, and home craft makers to sell their goods around the world. Social media also makes quantifying the reach of a message easier and more scientific; counting clicks and likes is more accurate than estimating eyeballs on a TV screen.

In some countries, social media has even been the catalyst to revolution. Graffiti with words like “Thank you Facebook!” was scrawled around Cairo and Tunis during the Arab Spring of 2011, with protestors using new media platforms to communicate and stay one step ahead of the regimes that had oppressed their countries for decades. Revolutionaries credited social meeting with helping them circumvent the state run media that dominated everyday discourse, and broadcast both the location of rallies, and the ideas that drove them to people who were hungry for change, but couldn’t previously express it.

Twitter Cairo

This month, the Collaborative Services blog will delve into the brave new world of New Media. We’ll find out who uses it well, what they’re doing, and how it’s changed the game when it comes to outreach. While its effect may be most pronounced on older forms of media like newspapers and television, in truth social media has changed the game for anyone who has a message to get out. If that message topples a dictator, creates a flashmob at the local mall or let’s you know where your kids are around the clock, it’s a remarkable phenomenon in an increasingly connected world.

Elizabeth Malloy, Associate

Collaborative Services, Inc.

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