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Elusive Impact

Measuring the impact of social media efforts seems to be an ever-evolving beast. As Dr. Rosenblatt explains in his blog series, “Measuring the Impact of Your Social Media Program,” and “Rules of Social Media Engagement,” social media is meant to generate support and disseminate your messages — and we need to gauge how much influence that is producing. As he writes, “Influence comprises several metrics, which can mostly be summarized within these categories:”

  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Driving web traffic home

As was pointed out, reach is largely those who saw, but not necessarily clicked on your ad, so the messages need to be clear and effective. Reach is one of the measures that is often the most impressive number of a campaign. This is because it is extended to include the people who have seen your message — as well as those who have potentially seen the message. Depending on how you measure this the number can be, shall we say “inflated” to encompass the largest potential audience. I am always a bit wary of how to measure reach in online campaigns. Have you all had any experience in quantifying digital reach?

I was pleased to learn about the many tools available to help us quantify our digital work. Measuring hashag usage as that is something I had not yet had to do, but I can now use it to help relate to a client how many potential people may have been exposed to a tweet when we incorporate hashtags (something that is still not complete clear to them, some big numbers might do the trick!) is another that I was excited to learn about and had some fun clicking around the site. It looks like they are starting up a paid service that will offer even more analytics — I look forward to seeing that advancements they offer.

I enjoyed the section on driving traffic back to your website, which is one of the hard-to-achieve goals of online communication because those visits could translate to sales, donations exposure of your issue or similar feats. Making it easy to visit a site, through a shortened link and ensuring the link is actually to what you advertise it is, is important to gain the trust of your valued social media audience member. I have a never-ending battle with a webmaster for one of my clients because he tweets links to his blogs about corporate news and images, rather than to the corporate site (for SEO purposes). Presenting a barrier to viewing the actual content is likely to make a visitor stop there and not continue on to find the content they had intended on viewing (especially in the case of his blogs, very link heavy and not clear as to what you should be clicking on).

Dr. Rosenblatt wrote, “And there is a great need to bring many of these disparate metrics tools into a central dashboard that makes collecting the data less time consuming and confusing.” This will definitely be something to look forward to — but until then we must develop personal combinations of tools and services that reflect the metrics important to us and our campaigns.

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Going Viral?

Christine’s post this past week got me thinking more about large scale viral campaigns, as I’ve only participated in smaller initiatives. She wrote, “What are some tactics you have used or observed that helped a social media advocacy campaign to stand out, grab attention, and ultimately influence behaviors?” While reading Mashable I saw a related article that caught my eye, “Why Viral Campaigns Can Still Be Challenging for Non-Profits.”

The article focused on a British campaign by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) UK called “Not In My Cuppa” with the goal of saying “not in my cuppa to factory milk from battery cows.” Its crux is a YouTube video, coupled with a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. The author touched on the things that the campaign did right and where they could have improved, while illustrating the inherent challenges faced  by a social media advocacy campaign.

After looking over the campaign I thought that it was only moderately successful. It was mildly entertaining, has low membership and viewership numbers and even the media relations manager couldn’t speak to any evidence that their effort lead to the positive outcome.

My boss wrote a blog for PR Week last summer that seems to speak to many of my thoughts on the campaign, “Lessons learned from a viral video.”

He wrote:

“Here are my tips for making corporate video content that people want to watch:

  • Keep it short. A video more than two minutes is usually too long.
  • Keep it funny.
  • Make sure the pace is brisk. The modern attention span needs MTV-style editing.
  • Unless there is a reason not to, use some music.
  • Most videos need a little advertising money to get some traction — $500 per day on Facebook or YouTube ads is a good floor.”

Some of my thoughts on the campaign:

  • I believe the video was too long. The three plus minute video was just too much, and didn’t keep my attention. In my job we try to never create a video longer than 90 seconds as you loose your audience. This video reaffirms that rule 🙂
  • It was said that the video took a humorous approach was to encourage it to go viral and  avoid “spreading depression and charity fatigue.” But I didn’t find it very funny. Did you?
  • Speaking to the “brisk” comment above, I thought the song was a bit too slow to elicit comedic value — a faster tempo song could have done the trick for me.

What I did find interesting from this article was how to measure a viral campaign’s impact. As we all know it is hard to gauge what actions your efforts have initiated. Did your video produce a click? A vote? A letter? “It’s difficult to attach direct action to viral campaigns. Understand your targets and find other ways to measure your reach, such as mentions in the press.”

Mentions in the press are a good way to judge impact — though if you are in the media it means you’ve already gained a significant amount of attention, right? Other ways to judge impact is through website trackbacks — was the visit generated through YouTube? Also, your social media numbers, views, friends, followers, etc. What other methods could be employed?

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Left or Right Leaning?

This week I have to say I struggled through The Argument and found it much less interesting than other books and readings this semester — therefore I will mostly focus on the Huffington Post piece, “Media Advocacy: Amplifying Your Argument.” The article, written by former CAP intern Harry Weisbren, was well written and evoked a personal opinion while still instilling knowledge (I can’t say the same for Matt Bai).

I found something he wrote on very topical as I wrote about a related idea on this week’s discussion board. Weisbren discussed how any issue brought about by media can be considered advocacy, and that has a subsequent impact on what does or doesn’t get carried by media outlets. “Even if the media outlet is attempting to be an objective source, their passing along news of the advocacy — while highlighting certain issues and promoting specific sources — has a large persuasive power on its own.” The mention of an organization or issue on a mainstream site lends validity to the topic, which often creates credibility with the organization or spokesperson. If an issue is inherently left or right leaning then pickup by a favorable outlet may be preferred, but positive pickup by a neutral or opposite leaning outlet could offer an increased reputation and value in the topic. That the issue goes beyond party lines.

On the other hand, the content of advocacy issue (one that is leans in a certain direction politically) can have a result on the media outlet itself, making is seem biased in favor or against an issue. The hostile media bias — which refers to the finding that people with strong biases toward an issue perceive media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality — is in effect in this case. If Fox News reports on a negative aspect of an issue, the liberals will most likely say “Well of course they said that, it’s Fox News!” No matter what their stance, the opposition will probably attribute their reporting to the conservative bias. This of course is also felt the other way about liberal outlets.

Similarly, this made me think about the media outlets that are not objective (despite what they advertise). Once a media outlet gets pitched they can, in theory, take the story in whichever direction they like. They may write about the positive points of your organization as you’d hoped, or they could instead turn your information around and write a negative piece.

The alternative to media outlets that the internet presents is the millions of other sites/outlets/blogs that could cover an advocacy issue. As was said in the “Virtual Printing press” video, the web has eliminated the gatekeepers. Before, if the newspaper wouldn’t cover your story it wasn’t going to be covered. Now, if mainstream media doesn’t care you can almost undoubtedly find someone who will. Although media is still an important component to advocacy, it is certainly not the only avenue.

Despite my overall thoughts of The Argument, one section I thought more on was the notion of Bill and Hillary Clinton as the country’s beloved “First Couple.” While true that Bill had a nearly 90% approval rating and Hilary ran on the platform of restoration of former ideals, I think the country wasn’t necessarily looking to revert back to the way it was. Instead we wanted change – change that Barack Obama promised.

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I Stand with Planned Parenthood

I was traveling this weekend with minimal access to the internet so my time on Facebook was limited — yet each time I scanned my News Feed on my iPhone the most consistent message that popped up was “Stand with Planned Parenthood.” Friday the House of Representatives voted to cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding in their government spending bill. Supporters of the organization have taken to the internet to garner signatures for an open letter to Congress, to urge Senate to overturn the cut and to bring attention to their plight.

The online campaign is asking people to sign an open letter to the representatives who voted to cut funding, largely through Facebook. I believe that Facebook was the best medium for this effort because Planned Parenthood already had a large community on the platform, with nearly 120,000 fans. This is in addition to the numerous regional Planned Parenthood divisions with roughly one thousand fans each. Planned Parenthood was able to tap into these already established communities and urge them to support their open letter campaign. The sharing nature of Facebook also let fans post that link on their own walls with the click of a button, further spreading the “Stand with Planned Parenthood” message. In fact, it has been shared more than 369,000 times! (The amount increased to that by more than 12,000 in the 30 minutes since I last checked!)

Leading up to the House decision Planned Parenthood carried out an aggressive email campaign which asked for “emergency contributions.” The email messages were worded with vigor and a sense of urgency to elicit action from its readers. One of the sections that resonated the most to me was in an email titled, “Ten days to decide the future of PLanned Parenthood.” The message read, “And at the end of those 10 days, every single one of us who cares so deeply about the millions of women, men, and teens Planned Parenthood health centers serve will ask ourselves, “Did I do everything I could to protect this irreplaceable organization from these devastating attacks?” I am determined to say yes. Absolutely, unequivocally YES. I’m counting on you to agree — so, if you can, please help by making an emergency contribution to Planned Parenthood Federation of America today.

This two pronged approach — Facebook and email — allows Planned Parenthood to reach different audiences with different messages. The email campaign seems to be more focused on donations while the Facebook effort is signatures and support. I think these may be because someone who has signed up for emails updates probably already has an invested interest in the organization and may be more likely to contribute funds. Since Facebook is a social, sharing platform its purpose seems to be spreading the message and garnering supporters more than asking for money. This is the best route because, as we’ve discussed recently, you need to be cognizant of what you are asking of someone and in what manner. Personally, I am less receptive to requests for donations on Facebook. Yet, a think coupling the tools is best — hopefully reaching their audience with both emails and a Facebook presence. This would hopefully result in publicity and donations to support overturning the bill.

Time will only tell the effect this online effort will have when the bill reaches the Senate.

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This week we had the pleasure of reading “Here Comes Everybody,” by Clay Shirky. I found the book entertaining while still insightful and educational. I’ve found that these types of books, those that offer real world examples grounded in communications/business theory, are most useful in applying lessons to my everyday work. Hearing about a successful case of mobile organized flash mobs lets me think critically about the aspects of that situation and how it relates or contrasts with my tasks at work. Reading solely about the theories behind mobile based communication wouldn’t have allowed me the same level of insight and understanding.

One silly thing that really stuck out to me is that Shirky called tweeting twittering! I didn’t even know it started out being called that! If you say twittering now people think you are a social media neophyte! Just like any other terminology, social media terms will evolve and adjust, but it seems that this has occurred rather quickly! Had anyone else heard twittering before reading this book?

Something that caught my eye in the section about Howard Dean’s seemingly unsuccessful campaign was, “and in the end the participation came to matter more than the goal (a pretty serious weakness for a vote-getting operation),” which I related it to a conversation I had just the other day with a coworker. I was explaining the differing benefits of pay-per-impression versus pay-per-click Facebook ads and my main point was that if you are encouraging general support, which I relate to “participation” in the Howard Dean example, then impression based ads are fine. This approach may work for Coke or Nabisco, who want users to pledge their support with a like, but not necessarily (or directly, at least) an ask to go buy a pack of Nabisco cookies. For support, I feel the impression exposure of ads can suffice and keep a brand relevant in a Facebook users mind. Yet, if your campaign requires action, click-based Facebook ads are better suited. Because if a person can’t be bothered to click on your ad and learn more about you then how likely are they to vote for you? Granted a like on Facebook does not guarantee a vote, and could be segmented into the participation bucket. But the act of liking is one step closer to the act of voting. This is why I think an action-oriented goal requires an action-oriented path there.

Another part of the book I found interesting was the statement that “social tools don’t create collective action — they merely remove the obstacles to it.” Looking at many of the examples in the book, it’s not that the situations couldn’t have happened without digital tools, but they were made easier/faster/more effective/etc with the advent of online communication. And, as Shirky writes, it isn’t the new fancy tools that make those outcomes possible — it is the simple tools, like email, text messaging and Facebook that can provide the avenues to those outcomes.

One aspect that stood out to me throughout the book was group congregation via text messaging. Over and over again we hear cases of successful protests and organic flash mobs organized via text, but I can’t imagine it working in my own life. I would be receptive to a message about a protest from Facebook or Twitter, but can’t imagine anyone I associate with would send a text to organize something besides drinks on a Tuesday. Does anyone else have experience with this? What was your experience?

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In my experience, I learn of political candidates through traditional media, which is then sometimes complemented by social or digital media. Yet, I recently learned of a local candidate for D.C. Council solely through Twitter. A local guy I follow, Dave Stroup, has nearly dedicated his Twitter account to promoting Bryan Weaver’s upcoming April 26 election.

The former DCist contributor has leveraged his sizable following (1,066 Twitter followers) to engage locals to support Weaver both online and in-person in what is known as the “Draft Weaver” campaign. Stroup links to Weaver’s Twitter account, sends people the website, and promotes Weaver’s political message daily. He then uses Twitter to facilitate offline campaigning, usually collecting petition signatures.

This campaign has clear online calls to action, including adding a name to their list at, participating in their Twitter petition, and joining their email list of supporters. Donation is also a strong theme of the campaign, having raised $1,000 thus far. Yet, while in these preliminary stages of his campaign I wonder if it would be better to filter everyone to one request — the petition, for example.

What also caught my eye is Weaver’s original YouTube video, which I first saw thanks a tweet and post from DCist. It is clever and emphasizes Weaver’s D.C. roots, while presenting him as a likable guy who can make measurable changes for the city. 

Weaver’s social media-driven campaign speaks to the transition political campaigns are taking in today’s digital climate. Grassroots efforts that used to begin with neighborhood appearances and grocery store petition signings are now preceded by the creation of website, blog or Twitter account to increase the effectiveness of that first neighborhood appearance. This approach allows the campaign to reach out to potential voters, getting Weaver on their radar, so when a voter comes across someone fundraising or requesting signatures Weaver is already a familiar and trusted name.

Have you come across any political candidates on social media lately? What kind of approached have they used? Were they effective?

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Today’s Gossip is Tomorrow’s News

A political scandal caught my eye this week that really demonstrated a shift in online and digital reporting. In a matter of three hours a breaking story on an online gossip site had caused a congressman to resign. Gawker reported that married New York Congressman Chris Lee had sent shirtless photos to a woman on Craigslist, and had the photos to back it up. The story buzzed across social and online media with such vigor that it soon was picked up by traditional outlets and became, in a sense, legitimized.

Gawker’s motto is, “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news,” and in this case that was indeed true. Investigative reporting is no longer limited to newspapers, but has become the pastime of gossip bloggers and web surfers alike.

This scandal also brings about a topic I often discuss with friends — the notion of a Facebook president. What will happen when the first president who grew up on Facebook (not young adults who signed up in college, but the kids who are avid status updaters at age 13) moves into the White House? Will our expectation of political figure’s conduct shift?

How we behave online will always come back to us. Why did Congressman Lee think any different?

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What’s for Lunch Today?

To practice using Facebook ads I applied the issue and target audiences I detailed in this week’s discussion: Childhood obesity, through the lens of a group like the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, aimed at increasing awareness in mothers and teachers.

In this case I chose to focus on teachers in areas where children are most at-risk for obesity. I did some research and found a Reuters article that revealed that Mississippi has most obese kids, Arkansas has the most obese boys and Texas has the most obese girls — so I limited my ads to these states. I then adjusted target ages to 22 to 65, as most teachers would be in that range. To find teachers I selected peeople who have expressed interest in “teaching,” “educator” or “teacher.” I also considered identifying specific workplaces, such as Texas Teachers Union, or similar organizations, but chose to keep it broad for this practice ad.

I used the Let’s Move campaign URL and created language that would hopefully catch the Facebook users eye while still being informational.

I found this exercise to be more challenging than I had anticipated. I have run Facebook ad campaigns before but left them very broad. It was more difficult to determine the specifics that would reach my intended audience.

Was the excersise harder or easier than you had expected?

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A Precedent for Success

This week our readings centered around targeting, attracting and engaging an audience.

  • I found the “Long-Tail Nanotargeting” reading extremely interesting. I was especially intrigued to learn that, There were as many Google searches in the last two months of the 2008 cycle as there were in the entire two years of the 2006 cycle.” Wow. I know the internet is evolving fast but that really puts its growth in perspective.
  • The section about persuasion versus acquisition niches was intriguing. I have run small-scale online advertising campaigns in the past and focused on persuasion — targeted ads on Google, YouTube and Facebook primarily. But, I have not had the time, money or sanity to really dive deep into the acquisition level — taking the extra step to find the type of audience I want, where I can find them and what I need to ask them. To be honest, before reading Koster’s roadmap I’m not sure if I would have known where to start.
  • Applying my new knowledge, I plan on using this as a standard when approaching online advertising campaigns at work. It will take extra time, but judging by the proven results of Franken’s race there is a precedent for success.
  • “Nanotargeted Pressure” was also a really great read this week. Although I am not in the political space and do not deal with attack ads currently, I have a feeling this narrative could apply to my work in the near future. With an outcome like — “Soon, we were the top return for Google, Google News and Google Blog Search for the phrase “Lou Dobbs.” — I really need to be paying attention.
  • The targeted Facebook ads in Atlanta and D.C. that made it seem like they had flooded the market, but really had only spent $1,750, are the same concept as running a full-page ad in the D.C. printing of the Wall Street Journal — the illusion of a large spend to intimidate your intended recipient.
  • I found “How (Twitter and) I Crashed Iran’s Propaganda Web Sites” intriguing. A quote that stood out to me was, “Let me be clear: This most definitely would have happened without me. All told, I probably only broadcasted directly to about two hundred people.” Yet, as is the nature of Twitter, every trend starts with one person. The idea came from someone. It doesn’t matter that his message was only broadcasted to 200 people (though he did acknowledge that theoretically he may his message may have been exposed to a collective 26,000 followers). What mattered was that through the combination of an urgent topic, an able platform and a call to action, Twitter users made an impact.
  • What I found most surprising in VA Senate Majority Leader to Dem Candidate: You WIll Use Web Ads, was the brake-down on campaign ad costs — especially because this is not something I am familiar with. The article reads, “In all, close to 4 percent of the campaign’s media spending went towards online ads. In addition to the $15,000 spent on around 8 million Web ad impressions, the campaign spent $225,000 on direct mail, $65,000 on cable television spots, and around $100,000 on other efforts such as door-to-door canvassing and robo-calls.” Although online advertising was the smallest spend, the results of the campaign demonstrate that carefully placed, well targeted and cleverly positioned ads can produce winning results.
  • “Exploiting “source amnesia: in political search ads” explored a topic that was discussed in the previous article: Creating negative or attack ads that link somewhere other than your own site. In these cases the political ads send visitors to a negative article or site about the opposition. One of the reasons this approach works, as Josh Koster explains, is “…Web surfers tend to experience “source amnesia”—they’ll remember the article and the negative claims about your opponent, but most people won’t remember what link they clicked to get there.” This presents an opportunity for your camp to present reputable information, while still negative, about a fellow candidate. This, is combination with the targeting we’ve read about this week, seems like a promising advertising approach.
  • The concept of mobile ads targeted at last-minute voters, as discussed in Google ads target online voters standing in line, is an obvious sign of the changing times. As more and more people are on smart phones there is more opportunity to reach this mobile audience. I wonder what the next step to this evolving trend will be. What is the next method of reaching people that will be more immediate, more available than mobile ads today?
  • The study results found in The Digital Playbook: Can online ads move poll numbers? caught my attention. Something I found interested was that awareness of embryo donation increased from 42 percent to 50 percent following the digital campaign in general, but in households with incomes over $100,000, awareness increased from 42 percent to 56 percent. I wonder what reasons contributed to this disparity. Since people in this income bracket are most likely more able to pay for something like embryo donation are they just more open to the subject? What do you think?

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Child’s Play

What constitutes a pass-along-to-your-coworkers video these days? Often a cute child or furry animal. Well a video I came across this week fit one of those criteria — but not in the way you might expect. In this clip eight-year-old Juju looks straight into the camera and tells Egypt’s President Mubarak why he’s got a problem on his hands.

In general, we — as news-reading, Twitter-using JHU Masters candidates — are exposed to numerous political messages daily. These can range from a detailed political analysis on a Think-tank website, to an overview of a new law in the daily paper, to a Tweet from an your Congressman. But for the most part, the messages are provided by an educated authority on the subject. Someone who presumably knows more about the topic at hand then you do. In all these situations, in my opinion, the natural inclination is to look for the further implications or impending results of said political message.

Yet, I think one of the reasons this video became so popular — with nearly 224,000 in less than one week — is Juju’s simple, sincere and innocent approach to a crisis that is affecting millions. As is standard for a child, her schoolyard sense of right and wrong kicked in and she told it like she saw it. As Mashable put it, “If you have kids or know them well, you’ll recognize the innate sense of fairness that every 8-year-old can plainly feel in any situation. Let them vote, let somebody else have a turn. Didn’t we all learn this in kindergarten?”

Her message is a refreshing point of view that breaks the tense political situation down to its simplest parts. My favorite part, as was for many people online, is her sly whisper to Mubarek: “Some of your police officers removed their jackets and they’re joining the people.”

This is just another example of how digital media is giving a voice to people who otherwise would not be heard. Without Twitter and YouTube, the political musings of a random eight-year-old Saudi girl would not reach farther than her living room and thousands of protesting Egyptians would lack a public voice during this historic moment in time.

Give it a watch and tell me why you think her testimony reached so many.

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