Results tagged “social media”

Age of Twitter accounts in #gamergate

I thought that yesterday's brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject - but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.

First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:

Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.

And that's visualised beautifully.

He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio's careful to not suggest that it's the result of sock puppetry - but it's another data point to suggest that there's some of that at work.

My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:

When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion

And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they're more numerous than they really are:

Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.

It's really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it's that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It's arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)

Social media and data journalism aren't quirky digital add-ons - they're essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don't equip ourselves with these tools, we'll be used by those who have done so.

Twitter's head of news Vivian Schiller is stepping down:

Vivian Schiller, the high-profile NBC and NPR exec whom Twitter hired to run its news unit, is leaving the company as part of a consolidation. Adam Sharp will now be in charge of both news and government at the social messaging company, as part of a larger consolidation across the media division by its new head Katie Jacobs Stanton.

Here's Schiller's own tweet about it:

There's been an interesting trend of social-savvy journalists finding their way into the social networks - think Joanna Geary at Twitter in the UK, Hannah Waldram at Instagram and Liz Heron at Facebook - but the path is clearly more rocky than you'd think. The Tumblr newsroom was an early example of that.

Are you obsessed with finding "influencers" for your brand or journalism?

Forget about it. It's a fiction, an seductive idea that science does not support - according to a recent post on the Harvard Business Review:

Duncan Watts, a researcher at Microsoft who co-created one of the most important models of how social networks function, says, “The influentials hypothesis is a theory that can be made to fit the facts once they are known, but it has little predictive power. It is at best a convenient fiction; at worst a misleading model. The real world is much more complicated.”

It's worth reading to the end of Greg Satell's piece on influence - because there are some gems at the end about how to really improve the chance of something going viral.

Interesting interview with Anthony De Rosa:

Through live blogging, De Rosa says he began to learn the value of information verification. Social media poses an increasingly large problem in the spreading of false or inaccurate information. Especially in times of breaking news, events unfold extremely quickly. There are many people feeding conflicting information into networks through their phones. Users blindly share information without considering the root of the source, and it spreads like wildfire.

There's a marked difference between doing journalism with new tools, and using new tools to rethink journalism. De Rosa is making a pretty good fist of the latter right now.

Facebook demobbed

Coffee & Tom Foolery

I just made a spur-of-the-moment decision - while sat in a local coffee shop - to remove Facebook from my iPhone. I'm not killing my account or anything like that - understanding how it operates is part of what I do - but the main app is gone. Why? Well, it's becoming a time sink. I'm finding myself browsing content I don't really care about via Facebook when I could be doing other things. That's both a failure of Facebook's algorithm - and also of my own self-discipline. I need to break the habit of just opening Facebook when I'm on my phone, so the app is gone for the time being.

Messenger's still there. The Pages app is still there. I'm just killing the main app, and pushing my Facebook use to the iPad and laptop. Let's see if that helps me find a more focussed approach to my Facebook time.

I'll keep you updated as to how it goes.

Social media gurus are breeding like rabbits roaches:

The June 2014 What’s Next Blog social media guru Twitter Bio list (researched on FollowerWonk) has grown to epic proportions. The list now tops 297,897 – up from a mere 16,000 when we first started tracking them in 2009.

Well over a quarter of a million people are self-declaring themselves as social media experts on Twitter now. Pause. Consider that. Despair for humanity.

Here's why you should immediately discount anyone who describes themselves in this way: no-one is a social media expert.

This is a new field, and a dynamic one. The services, approaches and tools are changing by the minute, and what you know now can be wrong in a month's time. Plus: it's a social field - and thus the answers tend to be different in every social group.

Look at it this way: social media is a communication tool - like the telephone. How many self-proclaimed "telephone gurus" are there? And how seriously would you take them?

[via Brent Simmons]

Facebooking

One of the most dangerous things you can do on the internet is start depending on one other company almost entirely for your traffic. A few years ago, I ended up working briefly with a business that was built on search, and was almost wiped off the internet by the Panda update to the Google search algorithm. It was an SEO-driven business, but the change was so profound that SEO tactics couldn't recover it - it needed long-term content development that nobody in the business was geared up to deliver.

That business was eventually sold on, in much diminished form. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm.

Facebook Algorithm changes

All of which brings us to Facebook, which has become the dominant force in traffic generation for a new wave of online sites. This rather famous graph of Buzzfeed traffic sources illustrates that well:

facebook-google-buzzfeed-referral-traffic.png

The Facebook news feed is sorted via an algorithm; you don't see (by default) everything your friends and brands you've Liked post. Facebook makes a guess as to what is most interesting to you, based on a mix of your own actions and those of others, and then shows you that content. And they've just made a change that will impact some of those sites:

We’re making two updates, the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format.

This is interesting, because they are two quite different situations, and worth exploring in depth.

Click-baiting

One of the big trends of the last year has been the rise of the "curiosity gap" headline, a headline that teases you with what you're about to get, but without making it absolutely obvious. It uses emotional manipulation - "you won't believe what happened next" - to get you to click through. This is almost the diametric opposite of the traditional search-driven approach of making the headlines as clear as possible. In fact, it's almost a reversion to the "clever" headline writing of print, but turned up to eleven.

It was a great idea - a headline format optimised for social rather than search. And it's been widely copied, and diluted as it spreads. Every last cheap'n'fast content site is using some variation of it, and the content the other side rarely lives up to the headline billing. Facebook can see that as it tracks user behaviour in detail:

One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.

This is interesting - because this is now a common behaviour with Google which does exactly the same thing. If people bounce back quickly from your site to the search result page after following a search link, then your ranking will decrease over time.

As Mary notes, this is not fabulous news for the traditional - short - news story:

Increasingly, news sites are using stub articles – a few sentences or shorter – to break fast-moving stories, atomising them into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces might take seconds to read. If they’re promoted on Facebook, how does a news reader clicking through, reading the whole thing then backing out look different from someone clicking on a curiosity-gap headline then backing out because it wasn’t what they wanted?

There's certainly an argument here that the shift to stub articles is a mistake, and a misapplication of print values to a digital environment - but that's fodder for another post. The core message is that short news snippets are now unlikely to perform well in either search or Facebook-driven social media. And make no mistake, however obsessed we journalists are with Twitter, Facebook is still the really mainstream, big traffic site.

So, there's a pressure here towards longer or growing articles - or at least articles where we always give the reader a related next click or two - both from search and social.

It's interesting to note that, at the very least, Upworthy have been shifting away from the curiosity gap for a while. Why? Because it's been over-used by competitors, and is becoming noise. That's pretty much exactly why Facebook is making this change.

Link Formatting

It's been relatively well-known for a while that you can often get a link to perform better on Facebook by attaching it to a photo post - or a standard status update - rather than using the full link format:

Facebook Link format

Indeed, the general drift has been towards using the status update rather than the photo post in the last six months, as Facebook seemed to be down ranking links attached to photos.

Now, they're clamping down hard.

With this update, we will prioritize showing links in the link-format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates.

The best way to share a link after these updates will be to use the link format. In our studies, these posts have received twice as many clicks compared to links embedded in photo captions.

Pretty clear message here: stop trying to game the algorithm. If you want to share a link, use the link format. Sure, photos get more engagement, but that's because people like interacting around photos, not because they like interacting around photos and swallowing a link too, by mistake.

I suspect the net effect of this will be to decrease the organic reach of many poor quality pieces of content in the broadest sense. In many cases, organic reach was already plummeting, because people were focusing too much on their brand pages, and not enough on encouraging Facebook users to share things themselves. For one thing, it places much more importance on you having good Open Graph metadata on your pages, so you can effectively control how your link appears when published in Facebook.

(I've been publishing Open Graph metadata here for three years now. How are your sites doing on that?)

It means you have to work harder at picture choice and description text to encourage people to click through. And it means you need to craft the sharing post to "sell" the story. But, frankly, you should have been doing that anyway, if you wanted good traffic results from Facebook.

And you do want good results from Facebook. The Telegraph recently revealed that they'd boosted traffic by putting more effort into Facebook than Twitter, because more of their traffic was already coming from there:

“We have found that for every minute put into promoting something on Facebook, we get a significantly larger traffic boost than we do from Twitter. We still put energy into Twitter, but since there is a bigger bang for effort we put more into Facebook.”

Facebook is mainstream in a way Twitter just isn't right now. And that means that we have another ever-shifting algorithm to deal with, not just Google's.

And that's why you should never make your entire traffic acquisition strategy dependent on one - or even two - services whose behaviour you don't control.

Half-drunk black Americano at Tom Foolery

Five recent reads you might have missed, and are well-worth your time:


It's a 24/7 social media world out there

Friends of the blog Brilliant Noise have done some research into the difference between "always on" Twitter presence and more sporadic approaches:

Always-on is a more strategic and customer-focused approach: it acknowledges that the relationship with customers is always in development and that there should always be avenues open for conversation. In comparison, a campaign-based approach is more tactical, and more geared to short-term business priorities (e.g. boost sales now!) than customer needs.

Twitter has featured the research, too.

In good Company

Company magazine takes the well trod path to online-only:

Hearst announced on Wednesday that after Company’s final issue, October 2014, goes on sale on 5 September, it will focus its efforts on targeting 16-24 year old women via the title’s website, Company.co.uk.

The major concern? That the next well-trod path is to complete closure…

A bitter tablet to swallow

Talking of digital magazines, one of the pioneers of tablet magazine design has walked away from the market:

“From my experience in working with Fast Company and other magazines, if you put a digital magazine on an iPad and you hand the iPad to somebody, you have the opportunity to make them say wow. If you expect the same person to find that magazine, pay for that magazine, and download that mag, that’s asking for a lot!” he says. “But that’s what businesses can do, put an iPad in your hands at the points of sale or a meeting room, and get your [attention]. That’s the game changer here.”

Ironically, of course, most B2B magazine companies are still locked into dingy page-turning replicas on tablets.

The next wave of LinkedIn spam

The tidal wave of LinkedIn content is coming. And they've release more details about their platform:

LinkedIn today outlined on its engineering blog a series of recent technical updates to improve distribution for new posts on its publishing platform. The three improvements include integration with the Feed-Mixer algorithm for ranking posts in LinkedIn’s member feeds, mobile notifications for first-degree connections and inclusion in daily or weekly Pulse news emails.

I still don't have access to the publishing platform - but as my contacts start pushing our more and more spammy self-promotional content through it, I'm losing interest fast.

The pulse of Wikipedia

Fascinating account of Wikipedia vandalism, correction and participation:

Now, notice: It had been eight minutes since the original wrong info had been posted, and three people had edited that sentence. But nobody had checked the facts and fixed the problem. This was the Reign of Error—the period during which I, and presumably dozens or hundreds or even thousands of other people, stumbled by and read the page. (It would be cool to have a long German word for this informational interregnum.)

He eventually finds the person who did do the correction…


Any suggestions out there of good articles we should read? Feel free to share 'em, old or new…

Fascinating account from Storyful about their social media verification work around the downing of flight MH17:

In the aftermath of the attack, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal affairs released the video below, described as showing a ‘Buk’ anti-aircraft missile system being transported in eastern Ukraine, en route to the Russian border. The footage is not the original, however we believe that the first instance of this footage was removed by the uploader and the version below is the earliest we can find. Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, made early claims that the video was filmed in the Ukrainian town of Krasnodon near the Russian border, however collaborative geo-location was able to place the footage in southwestern Luhansk.

This really is one of the new frontiers of serious journalism, and one that's only growing in importance.

(Which is, of course, why we teach it as part of the Interactive Journalism MA at City…)

Twitter's UK in-house journalism expert and friend of the blog Joanna Geary has crowd-sourced a great list of 30 Twitter tools that are useful for journalists:

Some are familiar and essential, but some are brand new to me. Well worth a little time.

Reddit for Journalists

Three speakers at news:rewired talking about use of Reddit in journalism, moderated by Mark Frankel, assistant editor, social news, BBC

James Cook, Daily Dot

James cookThere's two main tasks:

  • Finding new stories
  • Sharing stories

How do you get started? Sign up. That allows you to start following what you're really interested in. Reddit is made of communities of interests: subreddits.

How do you do Reddit wrong? Don't identify yourself. Reddit is great at identifying who you are - and if you're pretending to be someone else, you'll be busted. Be honest about who you are. Be honest and you'll get good results

How about promoting your story? Look for who has been sharing your stories. Chances are someone has already done it. If it's there, leave a comment saying you're the author and asking for feedback and questions.

If they haven't - well, the temptation is to post your own. And that is fine. But gaming Reddit isn't. OnGamers was banned for Reddit for doing this, and lost 50% of their traffic overnight. Here's a rule of thumb: no more than 10% of your links should be to your own stories.

Taylor Swift by Eva Rinaldi (used under a Creative Commons licence)

Big surprise of last week: Taylor Swift had some really interesting thoughts about the intersection of tech and commercial art in a piece for the WSJ:

There are a few things I have witnessed becoming obsolete in the past few years, the first being autographs. I haven't been asked for an autograph since the invention of the iPhone with a front-facing camera. The only memento "kids these days" want is a selfie. It's part of the new currency, which seems to be "how many followers you have on Instagram."

Fascinating point, and a very rapid cultural shift.

Here's another:

A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans—not the other way around.

Will we (or have we) seen this happen with journalists? I've noted that a friend of mine joining a national newspaper seems to be good for several thousand Twitter followers right off the bat, which is the inverse of what Taylor is talking about here. But if we postulate that online publications might evolve into aggregations of their journalists' combined followings, that might set the value of a journalist - and their social skills - at a premium.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi and used under a Creative Commons licence

Second video of the day:

It's rather ironic that it hit the web a few days before the news that Facebook is running experiments on our emotions.

There's a whole bunch of interesting research to be done on constructed identity using social networks, and I bet every single person on here is guilty of it to some degree. I very rarely see the sadness and difficulty of people's lives reflected in social networks - so much for radical transparency, huh?

However, Facebook's approach here is just uncomfortable. As Mary puts it:

Where things get rather concerning is the part where Facebook didn’t bother telling any of its test subjects that they were being tested. The US has a few regulations governing clinical research that make clear informed consent must be given by human test subjects. Informed consent requires subjects to know that research is occurring, be given a description of the risks involved, and have the option to refuse to participate without being penalised. None of these things were available to the anonymous people involved in the study.

Consent matters, people.

Verification is so very hard

Google Concept (not)

Take a look at this video:

Pretty clearly a concept video done by some students, right? That information's all there, including the account name on Vimeo. Even the most cursory of verification checks would show that up.

So, it's not like anyone would publish it as a real Google concept without doing the 60 seconds of checking needed, right?

Wrong.

Google+ Insights

Remember all those tech press stories declaring Google+ dead after the departure of Vic Gundotra?

This happened a week ago:

Many of you have asked for more data about how your social content is performing and who your audience is on Google+. So starting today, we’re offering all Google+ pages access to Insights reports. Insights provides key info that helps you tailor and optimize your Google+ content, including:

  • Visibility: All time total, photo, and post views, and how page impressions have trended over time.
  • Engagement: Which types of posts are getting the highest level of engagement on Google+.
  • Audience: Get an overview of your follower demographics.

And then yesterday, Google+ premium happened:

Apps customers have long been able to host Hangouts with up to 15 people, but now the sessions will be available in HD-quality — together Google believes that will “save time and money”. Premium also enables more granular privacy controls, letting Google+ users set their posts as restricted to their domain (thus visible to colleagues and employers only) if they wish, or hide their profiles from public searches.

There's a full break-down of what's being offered on the Google Enterprise Blog.

These are not the moves of a company winding down a product.

Beware online journalists who report or repeat rumour and speculation as if it was fact…

Declan Curry

The above photo was circulating Twitter yesterday, and at least two media outlets - Romenesko and FishbowlNY - ran it as an example of a BBC captioner having a bad day.

They found the image and they ran with it. They didn't contact Declan or the BBC. And today, they're both apologising.

As it happens, I was at university with Declan - we worked on Imperial College's student newspaper Felix together. I'd seen the photo before - when he posted it to Facebook, sharing a joke he'd written himself. Yup, the caption was by him - and was the best part of a year old:

click on the comments link to see the discussion

And there we have it. Two media outlets turned their journalistic instincts off when presented with something fun on social media, and made fools of themselves.

You don't get to stop applying the basic techniques of journalism just because you found something on social media. Verify, check, double-source. Or you'll be apologising to your readers - or your editor - pretty quickly.

Why social media feels so much less exciting when it's established:

Open systems start with no hierarchy, so they look like meritocracies at first, but network effects mean newcomers create a hierarchy, often without even meaning to. We will never return to a Twitter where there's little difference between newcomers and the old guard.

The form of the piece is an good old fashioned "it's not fair" - but it captures why the excitement and potential many find in the early days of a new tool often fails to come to fruition, as new hierarchies start to establish themselves.

This, I think, highlights one of the big challenge to journalists of the 21st Century. People are starting to associate the writing style we've been taught - CSWE, for Clinical Standard Written English, as the author defines it - with lack of openness. The legacy of social media is a different standard for the kind of language that makes writing appear trustworthy:

And nowadays -- this is where things get interesting -- people who write in CSWE actually mark themselves as untrustworthy by doing so. Because the new usage, call it Modern Written English, is everything CSWE is not: first-person, colloqiual, breezy, open, and personal. That's what readers understand and trust. But if you write like a high-school essay, or the Wall Street Journal? That is now a big red flag. Your readers don't know you ... but they do know that you have deliberately hidden who you are, by donning that mask called CSWE. And on some level they do not like it.

This doesn't mean that journalists need to adopt the tone of a Reddit poster - but it does mean we need to start challenging some of our assumptions about what constitutes a professional writing style.

Interesting column from John Gapper in the FT today. Here he's talking about Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed:

His insight was that sharing works differently from search. Search is a way to discover information, whereas sharing is prompted by emotion. People read all kinds of material but they mostly share stories or videos that create positive reactions, such as laughter; or actively negative ones, such as anger.

Well worth a read - even registering to read - if only to get to the final line, with which I heartily concur.

(Full disclosure: I worked on a project for the FT over the summer, alongside Neil Perkin and eConsultancy)