Google Wants to Help Journalists Mine the Social Web

The time was 3 a.m. The day was May 28th. The place was Times Square, New York. A historic moment was unfolding in the Big Apple as CBS was removing Letterman’s logo from the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee. The street nearby was lined with onlookers using their smartphones to capture the deconstruction and the remains. One of these fans was digital marketing consultant Geoff Golberg. He went over to the scene after being tipped off by a friend that the sign was going to be taken down. He recorded what he saw and then uploaded his footage to Meerkat.

While searching for news about Lettermen, Patty Barrett, an assignment editor from CBS in New York, got ahold of his video and asked for permission to use it on air. Even though CBS was only located a few blocks away, they didn’t happen to have anyone on the scene, so Golberg’s video not only informed them about this event but also provided them with an engaging visual for them to use.

Modern Day Storytellers and the Journalists Who Rely on Them

In today’s world, anyone can be a storyteller. All you need is to be in the right place at the right time with your smart phone handy. Thanks to social media, citizen journalism has begun to play a more important role in news reporting in today’s world. While journalists would love to be in several places at once so that they could cover every single story in their territory as it happens, that’s just not possible. Many times, they rely on user-generated content they come across on social media to inform them about what’s happening near them. While this information can prove to be extremely useful, it might leave journalists feeling overwhelmed, especially if they’re not sure if it’s true or don’t quite know how they should present it to their readers. Thankfully, this summer, Google has come to the rescue by releasing new tools, such as News Lab, YouTube Newswire, First Draft Coalition and Witness Media Lab, to help journalists navigate their way through user-generated content online so that they can use this information to aid in their storytelling efforts.

Google News Lab

In June, Google announced that it was launching News Lab, a site aimed at connecting journalists with programs, data and other resources to aid in their reporting. The site features a number of tools for newsrooms, including tutorials and best practices on how to use Google products in reporting. Journalists can develop their stories using Google’s research tools. Below, I’ve highlighted just a few.

  • Google Reverse Image Search: helps you verify the accuracy of images you find online. Has this image been altered in any way shape or form? Google can help you get to the bottom of it.
  • Google Public Data Explorer: helps aggregate datasets from trusted sources and gives you simple tools to create sophisticated visualizations. Many times, journalists know that they want to use data for a story they’re writing but just don’t know how. Google’s Public Data Explorer can help them strengthen their story.

Public Data

  • Google Alerts: allows you to set up custom alerts about the topics you’re most interested in so that you get notified when something happens right away
  • Google News Archive: Google’s great at giving you the most recent and relevant stories about a particular topic, but did you know that you can also use it to search for historical articles? This tool is essential when trying to report on how a story unfolded over time.

News Lab is also home to a recently redesigned version of Google Trends that helps journalists get real-time data about anything and everything that’s going on. Find out what people are talking about online and discover how you can give it your own spin to stand out.

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Numbers can often be overwhelming for journalists and their readers. That’s why it’s so important that they learn to utilize the power of this data to tell an engaging and socially shareable story.

Both Mashable and The Huffington Post have already utilized Google Trends to tell more effective stories using data.

In April, Mashable partnered with Google to publish a Google Trends map highlighting searches for “Nepal” and “help” in various languages during the first 48 hours after their devastating earthquake to illustrate the global efforts to help the area in need.

After the South Carolina shooting a few months back, The Huffington Post used Google Trends to look for the top questions asked around the events to further its analysis by answering them and providing more context.

South Carolina Shooting

YouTube Newswire

Also in June, YouTube, which is owned by Google, and Storyful announced that they were joining forces to launch YouTube Newswire. This channel serves as a resource for journalists looking for user-generated videos from around the world by highlighting newsworthy videos uploaded to YouTube that have been verified by Storyful. In today’s world run by citizen journalists, there’s a plethora of eyewitness videos and other user-generated content out there for the picking, but how do you know which ones are legitimate and accurate? That’s where Storyful comes in. It wants to help “journalists find stories worth telling amid the noise of social,” said Mark Little, Storyful’s founder and director of Innovation.

Just to give you an idea of how YouTube has evolved as a storytelling tool over the last four years, when Storyful and YouTube first began working together in 2011, 48 hours of videos were uploaded to the platform every minute. Now that number has reached 300 hours. It seems that Newswire has come at the perfect time then.

But Storyful’s role in Newswire is about more than just making it easy for journalists to get access to numerous, attention-grabbing eyewitness videos about a trending topic; rather, the organization’s value lies more so in the fact that it’s verifying the content that gets uploaded, making them “safe” for reporters who are trying to cover a story as accurately as possible while still trying to meet their deadline. The Storyful team has made sure that every video on YouTube Newswire goes through an extensive verification process that ensures the date, location and source are correctly identified. That, right there, is a HUGE help to journalists.

First Draft Coalition & Witness Media Lab

Along with Newswire, YouTube announced another new service called First Draft Coalition, which will provide journalists with practical and ethical advice and guidance for handling eyewitness media. Ethics and journalism go hand in hand…at least, they should. Knowing which content is OK to publish and which is questionable is key to being an ethical reporter in today’s world.

This summer, Google also launched the WITNESS Media Lab in partnership with WITNESS, a non-profit group that trains non-journalists in how to report on injustice and human-rights violations around the world. For its first two months, the lab is examining the impact of video in documenting police misconduct in the U.S. and its role in achieving justice and accountability. It is also developing a series of solutions to ensure that footage taken by average citizens can serve as an effective tool for justice.


The Future

Google’s ability to recognize when it needs to step in to fill the gap has served as a huge help to today’s journalists. With social media, and the web as a whole, being filled with a constant stream of user-generated content, it’s important that journalists know what content they should be using and which tools they should be relying on for assistance. Thankfully, Google has made this all possible. I don’t think there’s anyone else out there that can look out for journalists as well as Google can. Do you?


*Created using


Why Social Media Is Mandatory Not Optional for Journalists

As they say, the only constant in life is change, and that’s just what’s been happening in newsrooms across the world as social media has continued to play a bigger and bigger role. Five years ago, social media may have been optional, but today, it’s mandatory. According to a 2014 report from the Indiana University school of journalism, 40 percent of journalists said social media networks are “very important” to their work, and over a third said they spend between 30 and 60 minutes each day on social networking sites. Social media gives journalists access to a 24-hour news network that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have. It gives them story ideas, allows them to stay up to date on what kind of stories their competition is covering, gives them an opportunity to connect with their followers and allows them to develop their own personal brand. Reporters who are active on social media are considered to be trustworthy people who are experts in their field.

This week, we’ve been tasked with explaining why people in the following three positions should use social media and why they would benefit from using it.

Foreign news correspondent

Social media isn’t just a city-wide thing, nor is it a state-wide or a country-wide thing. Social media is global. As of this January, worldwide social media users exceeded 2 billion. By being active on social media, a foreign correspondent has the ability to see what people from all over the world, not just the area where they live, are talking about. Rather than simply relying on the various articles in Google News to tell you what’s happening, you can get all your news in one central location. You can see which hashtags are trending and look into them further if they pertain to the specific foreign news topics that you cover. Last week, we learned about the importance of social media use in foreign news reporting with the example of British news correspondent Alex Thomson who was sent off on a reporting assignment to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone last November. Although he had no prior knowledge of how to use the app, his editor asked that he take some six-second videos with Vine while he was there. When he finally shared these videos on Twitter, it caused quite the stir. In the end, the general consensus was that these Vines helped more people get a better grasp of this horrific situation in Africa.


Local beat editor

While it’s becoming the norm, not all journalists maintain a presence on social media. But those who do, reap the benefits. Take Jim Armstrong, who I wrote about last week, as an example. The CBS WBZ reporter is in charge of covering politics in the Boston area. During the trial for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Armstrong live-tweeted the entire event. He made sure to give his followers a play-by-play of everything that was going on in the courtroom. His vivid descriptions made you feel as if you were inside the courtroom listening to Tsanaev’s verdict first hand. As a result of his social sharing, he received lots of positive feedback from his followers, thanking him for his detailed reporting during this time.

Fusion’s Director of Media Innovation, Tim Pool, is another great example of someone who’s become a social media storyteller. During the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in 2011, he quickly received recognition for his live stream of the protests — captured on his mobile phone. He also played a big role in covering the riots in Ferguson, Mo. After the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown, the town began protesting. Pool was at the scene constantly publishing content to his personal social media networks, making sure that his followers received updates of what was going on in real time. Although Pool didn’t study journalism, he realized pretty early on in his career the kind of effect sharing news on social media could have. “Unbeknownst to me, I started doing journalism, just because I was bearing witness,” he said. “I started understanding that technology created a real opportunity to help share information.”

Tim Pool

Cameraman at TV News

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video would be deemed priceless. Videos add an extra element to stories that pictures can’t always compete with. They act as the visual element of a story, giving you a better ideas of what things were like at the time that an event took place. Although they’re not traditional journalists in the sense that they’re not constantly writing and editing articles all day long, cameramen are just as much in-the-know. Without them, we wouldn’t always have live, high-quality coverage of a breaking news event.

A cameraman at TV News should be as active on his personal social networks as an online or print journalist because they have just as much to say. Being behind the lens all day gives him a different perspective on situations that we otherwise might not get from a traditional journalist. Although he might not always have his camera gear on hand, he could opt to use Vine, Instagram or even Snapchat to capture an event right from his phone. Being active on social media also gives him an idea of what topics are trending, what events are occurring near him and what kind of people he should be interviewing for his videos.

Final Takeaway

No matter what type of journalist you are, the important thing to remember is that social media is a great way to stay up to date on what’s going on and to share information with people from all over the world. If you’re not active on it, you might want to rethink your decision.

Jim Armstrong: A Storyteller and an Eavesdropper

A couple weeks back, we were tasked with reaching out to three reporters on Twitter to ask them how social media has played a role in their career. Sadly, I didn’t hear back from the three I had chosen. Now, looking back on it, I wish I had reached out to Jim Armstrong, an Emmy-winning CBS WBZ reporter based out of Boston. Jim knows how to leverage the power of social media to further his role as a journalist in the 21st century.

Although I just recently learned about him, Jim Armstrong has already given me a feel for the kind of journalist he is. In his Twitter bio, he refers to himself as a storyteller and an eavesdropper. A more perfect description of what today’s journalists should be doesn’t exist.

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Journalists as Storytellers

Social media allows journalists to be true storytellers. Despite Twitter’s character limit, it’s an extremely powerful social platform that gives journalists an opportunity to connect with people from all over the world who might not have access to the TV channel they’re featured on or might not read the specific articles they write. When journalists choose to tell stories on Twitter, they’re giving users an opportunity to take part in the conversation, something they might not otherwise have been able to do.

What I like most about Armstrong’s style on Twitter is that he doesn’t use it primarily for self-promotion, something that so many celebrities fall victim to. Instead, he uses it as a means to live tweet his beat and inform the public about what’s going on in his area. Reading his feed is almost like a play-by-play of Boston’s current events.

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Journalists as Eavesdroppers

Live-tweeting about a news event happening on their beat is a great way for journalists to increase engagement and follower growth. According to Twitter’s section on Media Best Practices, for journalists who post a concentrated number of tweets in a short time span, follower growth is 50 percent more than expected. Thanks to his live coverage during the trial of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, Armstrong saw his follower count go up by more than 1,000 during the trial, with a 14 percent bump on the last day.

More recently, Armstrong live-tweeted from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial in Boston to make it easier for the public to know what was going on behind closed doors. Rather than making his coverage text-based only, Armstrong opted to include some visual elements as well, such as the painting below showing Tsarnev’s facial expression as he hears that he’s been sentenced to death.

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While text-based tweets are extremely informative, incorporating an artistic component in your coverage of a live event, like Armstrong did, will likely incite a bigger emotional reaction from your Twitter followers. It’s one thing to read something and imagine how it’s all playing out, but it’s a totally different one to see a picture of what’s actually going on.

Journalists as Humans

We often forget that journalists are people, too. I think the ones who choose to use social media to show their human side as well are able to develop a closer connection with their followers and, are, therefore, able to further advance in their career. I loved this tweet Armstrong posted after the trial was over. It shows that he was experiencing this journey right alongside his followers.

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And it seems that his followers loved it too.

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Final Takeaways

Believe it or not, many journalists are still behind the eight ball when it comes to using social media to enhance their journalism. They view it more as a platform to promote themselves and their work rather than as a way to provide a unique value to their followers.

The past few weeks in this class have made me realize how important it is for journalists to educate themselves on how best to leverage the power of social platforms in order to see what their competitors are talking about, gather new story ideas and better connect with their followers. Those journalists that choose not to make social media part of their overall reporting strategy are missing out on the opportunity to enhance their careers and engage with and inform their followers. Fortunately, Armstrong doesn’t fall into this category.

Why Some Brands Have Social Shareability and Others Don’t

When it comes to social media, businesses and individuals alike all want one thing…shareability. In other words, they want people to engage with their content and then share it with their network of friends.

The following data compiled by News Whip in January 2015 shows which brands made up the most shared sites on Facebook at the time and which made up the most tweeted sites on Twitter. After analyzing these brands, here’s my take on what accounted for their success.

January Most Shared Sites Newswhip

January Most Tweeted Sites Newswhip

Reasons for Success on Facebook

BuzzFeed and newcomer PlayBuzz both do a great job of engaging their audience, Millennials, through humor. Their posts contain really outrageous images and text that makes you want to keep reading and share it with your friends on social media. What I noticed about their Facebook posts is that they all link back to the company’s site. While doing this too often could alienate people who might not want to leave Facebook to read what you have to say, it seems to work well for both of these brands. The reason PlayBuzz seems to trump BuzzFeed when it comes to social shareability is because their readers need to complete a quiz to get a personalized result. Without completing this step, they cannot fully engage with any of these Facebook posts. Among the differences I noticed between the two brands were that BuzzFeed features a little more variety in the content that it posts. While PlayBuzz only posts quizzes, BuzzFeed posts a mixture of quizzes, lists, heartfelt stories, pop culture stories and current events. Additionally, BuzzFeed houses most of its video posts on Facebook and on its website. According to this socialbakers article, Facebook video has overtaken YouTube video in terms of overall views and user interactions. Therefore, more and more marketers are turning to Facebook to showcase their videos.

PlayBuzz Facebook

BuzzFeed Facebook

While The Huffington Post is also geared towards a younger demographic, its Facebook posts feature a more mature tone than do BuzzFeed and Playbuzz’s. The site uses Facebook to post about a variety of topics, including politics, entertainment, environment, technology, comedy and local news. The Huffington Post also makes sure that all of its posts link back to their site so that people who want to read more will be forced to continue reading the article on their site.

Huffington Post Facebook

News stations are also seeing an increase in engagement on Facebook. Industry leaders suspect that there are two reasons for this. First, Facebook’s News Feed algorithm update, which suggests content based on click-through rate, has cut out a lot of spammy content and images, thereby bringing Facebook posts from reliable news stations to the forefront. Secondly, news stations are becoming more savvy about how to use Facebook to present their content in the best way possible. The BBC, for instance, posts user-generated footage of breaking news events. Fox News, posts a variety of interesting/breaking-news-type posts every hour on the hour, so you can’t deny the network’s social-media-centered focus.

The thing with news stations is that they have so much more material to cover on social media than brands that have a more narrow or specific focus. They also appeal to a wide range of people. For these reasons, I think news stations will continue to remain top sharing sites when it comes to Facebook.

Reasons for Success on Twitter

There’s a reason the BBC is at the No. 1 spot on this list. The news platform prides itself on posting a variety of posts, from videos to still images to infographics to vines. Its headlines sound like they were written by journalists, which as we learned this week, is, oftentimes the way to go. The BBC makes excellent use of its 140 character count, utilizing unique hashtags when appropriate. Even before it began incorporating social media into its overall marketing strategy, the BBC already had a fair track record of inviting the audience to get involved in its journalism through web forums, debates, blogs and article comments.

BBC Twitter

Coming in in the No. 2 spot is The New York Times, a publication that prides itself on breaking news coverage. The publication knows when to use images in its posts and when not to, and it’s been able to save on character count by including by relying on watermarks to credit the images’ photographers. I think what makes The New York Times stand out from the crowd are its feature-length, in-depth pieces on particular people. They’re both captivating and exclusive, making them a huge draw for their online audience.

Taking the No. 3 spot is Mashable, a site that’s always on top of the latest Internet and social media sensations. Mashable is timely, contains easy-to-read-content and posts tweets that feature well photographed images, such as this one below. It knows who its audience is, what they want to see and how to best reach them. While they pride themselves on writing entertaining content, they know how to differentiate themselves from other more playful Millennial-centered sites like BuzzFeed and PlayBuzz.

Mashable Twitter

Many people might be surprised by the fact that BuzzFeed, whose Facebook posts tends to go viral, is clearly missing from the most tweeted sites list. But when you stop to think about the reason behind this, it makes more sense. BuzzFeed is a very visual brand. While Twitter allows for images, it doesn’t place as high of a focus on them as Facebook does. Perhaps BuzzFeed could find other ways to engage users on this platform by coming up with really creative hashtags.

Key Takeaways

Today’s social media market leaders are doing a few things that I can take with me moving forward both in this course and in my marketing career.

1. Include eye-catching images and videos when appropriate. Knowing when an image is unnecessary and knowing when it will drive engagement are key.

2. Try to be as concise yet creative with your tweets as possible. Just because Twitter allows you 140 characters doesn’t mean you need to use them all for every tweet. Allow your followers room to retweet and reply to your content.

3. Know your audience. Know who they are, when they’re online, what they want to read or see and how they want it delivered to them.

4. Include a link back to your site when appropriate. Find a balance between doing it for every post and never doing it at all. Ultimately, you want to drive traffic to your site so that people can read more about you and your organization but you don’t want it to come across like a sales pitch.

5. And finally, be timely with your social content to increase your chances of social shareability.

NBC News Shows Us That Good People Still Exist

Qdoba Man Feeding Disabled Employee

When I’m trying to find out what’s going on in the world, I usually do what 88 percent of Millennials do — log on to Facebook and Twitter and see what people are talking about. As I was scrolling through my Facebook News Feed to try to find something that caught my eye, I came across a really heartfelt post from NBC News about a Qdoba Mexican Grill employee who took time out to perform a random act of kindness. He helped a woman through the line, sat her in the lobby, got her a drink and then helped her eat. This long-time Qdoba customer is wheelchair bound, and if not for this man’s help, she would’ve had a very tough time eating.  “I mean, she needs help, and if I wasn’t going to do it, no one was. Who else is going to do it?” said the employee. Once the restaurant’s manager saw his employee’s good deed, he knew he had to record it and share it with his friends. He obviously had no idea that it was going to go viral.

With all the sensationalism out there from both national and local news outlets about shootings, robberies and social injustice, it’s refreshing to comes across a story that gives me a little more faith in humanity. More than anything, this piece of content is trying to engage users and prompt them to have an emotional experience. I love that NBC News included the video right in its Facebook post so that users could watch the clip right then and there without having to be redirected to NBC’s site. And best of all, the clip is 13 seconds–not too short and not too long, in my opinion. However, if you’re interested in hearing more about this story, you can click on the link included in the Facebook post, which will redirect you to NBC’s site where you can watch a longer, more detailed video that explains the backstory and the employee’s reasoning for choosing to help this woman. This story is very visual, so I think that those news outlets that opted not to display the video in their post missed the mark. Despite the fact that the story was short, sweet and to-the-point, I was still able to find a story arch that included the set-up, the backstory of the woman; the problem, the fact that she needed help eating her food; and finally, the resolution, the Qdoba man actually feeding the woman. While I would’ve liked to have seen a short written piece of content accompanying this story, I thought this video was great social content because it showed a more accurate representation of the kind of everyday acts that are taking place in our society.

The Ethical Implications of Graphic Photos in News

Boston Strong

Social media played a huge role in the spreading of the news about the Boston Marathon bombings. Although I first found out about this tragic event via a pop-up on my phone from the CNN app, Facebook and Twitter were the first places I turned to to find out more information about what exactly happened on April 15, 2013. And I wasn’t alone, according to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of Americans and more than half of young Americans became informed about the bombings from social media. Along with the pages and pages of information about the bombings, there were many graphic photographs depicting the aftermath. One such photo showed a man by the name of Jeff Bauman, Jr, who had lost both of his legs in the blast. You can clearly see his face as he’s quickly being pushed in a wheelchair to a nearby ambulance. His look is full of shock, despair and utter disbelief. There’s no way someone could look at that image and not feel something for this man. What must be running through his mind? What must his family think about all of this? Will he survive?

As a journalism major, my professors always emphasized that the job of a journalist was to report the facts. But what happens when reporting the facts involves publishing a photo that you can’t even stomach? Advocates for the publication of graphic photos, argue that text can never show the true magnitude of a horror as visuals do. Natalie Raabe, a spokesperson from The Atlantic, a publication that decided to publish this photo, told The New York Observer,” We agree that this image is difficult to look at, but believe that it is also a true depiction of the terrible nature of this story. We were careful to prepare viewers for the graphic content, including a warning that entirely obscures the photo.” The Atlantic and Buzzfeed were among the publications that ultimately decided to publish the image. The New York Times, however, decided against it. One of the newspaper’s senior photographers, James Estrin, said he wasn’t sure that the graphicness of the photo advanced the story.

Putting emotions aside for a second, I think the New York Times was on to something here. If a graphic photo adds some sort of news value by helping to advance the story, then perhaps it is ethically OK to publish; however, if it adds nothing but a feeling of overwhelming horror, it probably shouldn’t be included. But if you ask me, emotions can’t be put aside in a situation such as this. Emotions become all-consuming when you look at this picture. And if you ask Bauman, his initial reaction to his photographer was, “Why isn’t he helping? People are dying.” By the time, Bauman had gained consciousness two days after the picture was taken, the photo had gone viral. In fact, that’s how his parents and close friends found out he was hurt. “No information, just an image: my lower right leg gone, my lower left leg stripped to the bone.” While the man who took the picture is a photojournalist by profession, he’s a human above all else, and should’ve, therefore, acted instinctively and helped wheel Bauman to the ambulance much like Boston Marathon bystander, Carlos Arredondo did. And you can tell he felt guilty about his decision because the first thing he said to Bauman when he met him almost a year after the incident was “I’m sorry.”

The image in question had managed to, in some way, crystalize the horror and cruelty of the bombing. Along with its publishing came many ethical issues. Should his family, who wasn’t even at the race, have to find out about their son’s injuries via a viral photo on the Internet? Choosing to publish this photograph showed complete disregard for his family and close friends who’d rather find out what happened in a more private manner. When The Guardian interviewed Bauman about the tragedy almost a year later, he said, “Part of me, I guess, wishes the picture had never been taken at all. I wish my mom hadn’t seen me that way, because she couldn’t find me for hours afterward, and that was cruel. I wish I wasn’t the face of the victims – three lost near the finish line and hundreds injured – because then everyone would forget about me, and I could recover in peace, and at my own pace.” Was it really necessary to publish this photo? Could a text-only article or one with less graphic photos have done just as good of a job as this picture did at depicting the horror of this event? I think so. But would it have the “wow” factor that so many journalists and publishers crave no matter the situation? Probably not. Seeing this photo could bring back terrible life-altering feelings to the victim who’s simply trying to put that day behind him. And finally, by publishing images such as these, it’s further promoting terrorists’ agenda, as do the ISIS beheading videos. Do we really need to torture Americans to the point where they don’t feel safe in their own country doing their normal day-to-day tasks? Is doing so ethical? Personally, I don’t think so.

Ello? Is anybody out there?

Ello Invitation

Ello is promoting itself as the first ethical social network. Known as the anti-Facebook because of its anti-advertising, pro-privacy model, Ello promises not to collect and use its users’ information.

With Facebook, “every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way,” reads the Ello manifesto. Rather than selling ads, Ello said it plans to introduce an app store, where widgets and add-ons will be sold to let users customize the site and individual profiles.

Anti-Marketing or Just Anti-Advertising?

This all begs the question, is Ello really anti-marketing? Actually, according to a Content Marketing Institute article published this month, many of the people who initially joined this invite-only app were marketers and social media community managers. So even though Ello is anti-advertising, it is not anti-marketing, “particularly if the content is stylish and interesting enough to fit in with the celebration of creativity and design that Ello aspires to be.” Rather than relying on traditional advertising, which interrupts the user, Ello and its co-founder, Paul Budnitz, aim to pull marketing towards the user based on relevance and genuine interest.

Ello Invite

Ello, Goodbye

Back in September, Budnitz said that requests and approvals for access to the invite-only service were totaling 40,000 per hour. Six months later, statistics have shown that interest in the site has wained. While user sign-ups have been high, people aren’t sticking around. The network peaked at 30 million visitors in October and had only 9 million last month. It seems like the social network’s ethical approach isn’t enough to convince people to leave their beloved Facebook. Remember when Google+ was invite-only when it first came out? And we all know how well that turned out for this often-forgotten-about social network.

Ello? Anybody There?

No one seems to be on Ello. Even those who are obsessed with posting their every move to the social networks they’re currently on aren’t on it. Why is this? Well, for starters, while people might try out a variety of social networks just to see what they’re like, they’ll probably only regularly post on one to three. Second of all, it seems that the “ethical” nature was not enough to convince people to use it. In order for us to change what we’re currently using, the alternative has to be better. Ello is not better than Facebook. As Content Marketing Institute author Jonathan Crossfield said, “While some minority groups may value the freedoms and privacy afforded by Ello, many other users may not see the poor user-experience and stripped-back platform as an adequate replacement.” In other words, when you take away Ello’s manifesto, all that’s left is a poor user experience.

While, at the moment, I can’t see Ello killing off Facebook, the new ad-free social network serves as a warning to all the other major networks that people want to keep the social in social media and as a reminder that organic content should be just as valuable if not more valuable than paid content. Before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube used to rely so heavily on advertising, these platforms were about engaging in genuine conversations with people and providing feedback or answers to questions. We can’t leave the original purpose of social networks behind for algorithm updates and advertising dollars. Ello is on to something here with its manifesto. With that said, while people might be in favor of its no-advertising stance, I don’t think they’ll be jumping on the Ello bandwagon anytime soon. They’d rather stick to their ad-cluttered Facebook page, which they’re familiar with and is easy to use, rather than trade it all for a new social platform that barely has any sign-ups and offers a poor user experience.

Moderating Negative Facebook Comments

Moderating an online community can be tricky. While social media moderation is necessary, it needs to be done with as light of a touch as possible. The key to effectively managing any given situation is knowing when to step in to moderate a conversation and when you should just let nature take its course, so to speak. As Justin mentioned in this week’s lecture, social media sites, ultimately, belong to their users not to their community managers. According to NPR’s Ethics Handbook, “we do not impose ourselves on such sites. We are guests and behave as such.” In order to get the most out of social media, we need to understand these communities and treat those we encounter online, regardless of whether what they’re saying is positive or negative, with the utmost respect and courtesy that we’d show people we encounter offline.

This week, we’ve been tasked with moderating the following sample customer comments. We are to assume that they were left on our company’s Facebook page.

To a hotel: “I am disgusted about the state of your restaurant on 1467 Justin Kings Way. Empty tables weren’t cleared and full of remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”

My response: Hello, (Insert customer name here). Thank you for taking the time to provide us your feedback. We are sorry to hear about your unpleasant dining experience at our restaurant. At (Insert name of restaurant), we pride ourselves on excellent service, one-of-a-kind cuisine and cleanliness. Messy tables are not acceptable. Please be assured that we have spoken with our staff to ensure that this will be not happen again. I’d like to personally invite you to try our restaurant again the next time you’re in our neck of the woods. When you come, please make sure to ask for Lynette. I would love to meet you in person.

To a mainstream news network: “Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.” (Let us assume the reporting was balanced, with equal time to both sides.)

My response: Hello, (Insert customer name here). Thank you for taking the time to listen to our news segment about the Middle East and provide us with your feedback. At (Insert name of mainstream news network), we do our best to ensure that our reporting is as balanced as possible, making sure we give equal air time to both sides of every issue we discuss on our network. Please know that we value your feedback and have passed your comments on to our team manager. If you have additional feedback in the future, please feel free to email us directly at (Insert email address here).

Although each of my replies were for different types of situations, I structured them very similarly. In each, I thanked the customer for their feedback, apologized for the poor experience they had, touched on our company’s values and invited them to leave additional feedback. While there is no magic formula for moderating comments on social media, I find that this way is a pretty standard and effective way to handle customer/viewer complaints, as it demonstrates empathy and honesty.

FedEx’s Social Media Nightmare Before Christmas

Contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity. While it’s good to have people talking about you, a negative comment on social media has the power to quickly damage your brand’s reputation.

Before Social Media

Prior to social media marketing, companies had time to react to situations that called for crisis management. For instance, they could pull their TV commercial or retract an entire newspaper article if they felt it was being poorly received without much backlash. Sure, people could record these commercials or save these articles, but there really was no way for them to quickly share this information with others.

Social media, however, makes things more permanent, and is therefore, harder for companies to control. All it takes is for one of your customers to take a screenshot of something you posted or upload an incriminating video and then share it with their followers to make your social media faux pas go viral.

FedEx’s Blunder

In Dec. 2011, FedEx came under social media attack after YouTube user goobie55 uploaded a video that showed a FedEx delivery man throwing the Samsung computer monitor he ordered over his fence to deliver it to him. Although the customer was home at the time, the delivery driver never bothered to knock or ring the doorbell to alert him of his package; instead, he chose to toss it. After opening his monitor, the customer noticed that it was broken and needed to be replaced. Thanks to his well-placed security security camera, he was able to express his disappointment with FedEx on YouTube. Goobie55’s video, which received more than one million views in an approximately 24-hour time span, prompted other FedEx customers to discuss their negative experiences with the Memphis-based shipping company.

It was time for FedEx to do some damage control.

FedEx Responds

After the video was posted, FedEx Senior Communications Specialist Shea Leordeanu stated “All of us here at FedEx have seen the video and quite frankly we were shocked.” Two days later, on Dec. 21, FedEx apologized via their own YouTube video. In it, Senior Vice President of U.S. Operations Matthew Thornton apologized on behalf of his entire company for the actions of their reckless delivery driver. “I am upset and embarrassed for our customer’s poor experience,” he said. Thornton went on to explain that they had met with the customer, who had accepted the company’s apology and is now satisfied. They also announced that they were taking disciplinary action against the driver.

While this video went against FedEx’s purple promise, which is to make every FedEx experience outstanding, the company decided to use it as a learning opportunity. They shared the video internally to remind their employees of the importance of delivering packages and to demonstrate that actions like this are totally unacceptable. They also incorporated it into their training programs “as a constant reminder of the importance of earning — and keeping — your trust with every single delivery.” Additionally, the FedEx communications team also wrote a blog post titled, “Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable,” to expand on their apology video.

My Take On It

I actually really liked the way FedEx handled its negative publicity. The company took note of the viral video; issued a sincere, well-written apology, both on YouTube and on its site’s blog, in which it stated that it would use this video to prevent future incidents; made sure the customer whose monitor was damaged was satisfied; and announced that it would be taking disciplinary action against the reckless delivery driver. Customers took note of the company’s response and voiced their approval of the way it handled things in the blog comments.

That being said, there are a few things I would’ve done differently. First of all, while I appreciated FedEx’s response, I felt that it was too delayed. The video was posted on Dec. 19, and it wasn’t until Dec. 21 that FedEx issued their official apology. In the social media world, two days can seem like an eternity. Additionally, while the negative publicity took place on YouTube, I would’ve liked to have seen the company post a short apology to their Twitter as well as share a link to their YouTube video and blog post on their Facebook wall, as this would’ve increased the changes of having their message reach as many FedEx customers as possible. Finally, I wasn’t able to find any follow-up articles from FedEx about how this video had changed the way they do business. So even though they said they were going to incorporate it in their training programs, I would’ve liked to have seen a follow-up blog post about how doing so had had a positive impact on their employees and the company overall.

I Trust You, Rand Fishkin

Trusting people on social media can be a tricky thing. In face-to-face conversations, it’s much easier to gauge a person’s trustworthiness than when they’re hiding behind a computer screen. Although I tend to trust too easily in life, it takes a special type of person to earn my trust on social media.

Rand Fishkin

If you were to poll everyone at the Internet marketing company I work for and ask them who they trust most on social media, they would be unanimous with their answer – Rand Fishkin. Rand is the founder of Moz, a Seattle-based company that sells inbound marketing and marketing analytics software subscriptions. And on top of that, he follows Steve Rayson’s proposed social media trust formula to a tee.

With that in mind, it’s time to evaluate his trustworthiness.

Social Media Trust Formula

A is for Authority – In the Internet marketing world, Moz is king when it comes to SEO. Being that we always want to stay on our toes when it comes to Google, Rand is the perfect person to follow on social media. Every Friday, he puts out a short, educational video on his website called “Whiteboard Friday” that touches on a new SEO topic. In it, he provides tips and best practices. His videos are funny, laid back and usually no more than 10-12 minutes long. In case you missed something he said in the video, but don’t have time to rewatch it, you can read the transcript right below the actual video. He also frequently blogs about current SEO issues on his website.

On his Facebook and Twitter, Rand is just as knowledgeable, often providing his fans and followers with the latest in SEO and Google. He currently has 10,779 likes on his Facebook business page and 226,000 followers on Twitter, so it seems that others have taken notice of his vast knowledge in the Internet marketing arena.

H is for Helpfulness – No matter how busy he seems to be, Rand always finds the time to be helpful. In addition to putting out a new “Whiteboard Friday” video each week to educate his followers, I’ve also seen him write back to people in the comments section of his site, respond to comments left on his Facebook posts and reply to his followers tweets. Up until January of last year, he was the CEO of Moz. How many CEOs have you seen that actually take the time to respond to user comments on their blog posts? I’d venture to say not many. While Rand could simply just say something along the lines of “Thank you for commenting,” he, instead, writes a detailed response that shows that he actually read the person’s comment. Additionally, Rand isn’t just partial to On his social media channels, you’ll see him promote information from all types of sites. As long as he finds a piece of information useful, he’ll share it, no matter where it originated.

I is for Intimacy – Rand doesn’t pretend to be perfect, which makes me respect him even more. Earlier this month, he wrote a blog post that really stood out to me called, “On Being Wrong and Not Knowing the Answer.” In it, Rand is not only intimate with his fans but also honest and sincere (genuine), which are two of the characteristics I believe a trustworthy person should possess.

“Not having answers is natural. Not having a certain type of experience or enough of that experience to make a smart-than-average guess is going to happen, even if you’re the most coveted, respected expert in your field. It’s what you DO when you don’t have that answer that separates the high-integrity experts from the rest of the pack.”

Just because Rand is an SEO guru, doesn’t mean he knows all or that he doesn’t need to seek advice from other trustworthy people. It’s nice to see someone be so intimate with his fans. If only other high-level executives could learn from Rand’s humility.

SP is for Self Promotion – Rand likes to share his experiences with others who could learn from them or might even be able to relate to them, but one thing he doesn’t like to do is make things all about him. In his most recent blog post, “The False Narratives We Tell Ourselves,” he explains that he’s not “sharing this for sympathy.” He’s sharing it because he thinks ” we all carry these false narratives with us.” In other words, if Rand feels that someone will be able to benefit from him sharing something about himself, he will. Otherwise, he’s very humble and low key.

From what I’ve come to know of Rand ever since my company encouraged that I follow him on Twitter, I’d say that his No. 1 priority is teaching people, be it through his blog, his Twitter or his Facebook. To Rand, gaining his followers’ trust validates what he’s doing.