Social Media Lessons learned

The last week has been an interesting social media experiment for me. As you know by now, HP is doing a massive computer giveaway split across 50 different blogs. I became inspired and am still trying to work hard to win one of the contests to make a little Christmas magic happen here in the Heartlands. I entered a couple that were random drawings..and lost. I entered one on Liz Henry’s Blog about poetry, technology and politics that was an “inspire me” contest. I got an honorable mention for my comment, but no computers. I was excited because people liked my writing, but no computers to share. Then I found out about Chris Parillo’s contest.. it was a write a post and get the most comments sort of post. I wrote about something I have a passion for.. cooking and then started the social media pimping. I wanted to spread the word, but did not want to be completely annoying about it all.
I did a couple of tweets about the contest and included a link to the article. I posted it on my Facebook status. I sent out multiple emails to different mailing lists. The comments rushed forward… mostly family and really good friends at first. We jumped up to 21 comments in no time at all.. putting us at about number 5 or 6 in the contest. My hopes surged.. maybe we had a real chance at this.
The next day, I put out a few more tweets, but the response was slow. We stalled at about 24 comments. I really want this for the people involved, so I started calling some friends who I had emailed in the initial rush. I sat people down and asked them to read and comment on it… we jumped up to 41 comments. There was a chance after all..
With less than 24 hours left in the contest, I decided to get a little more pushy.. I started DMing people on Twitter. I actually DM’d so many that I used up my 24 hour quota of DMs (several of us did not even know the limit had been added…). But I started getting lots of positive results. DMs back from people, emails, wow. I got excited. I logged back into Facebook and started Facebook IMing people who were actively online.. asking them to please check it out and comment if they liked it.
The comments awaited moderation and poor Chris apparently came down with food poisoning, others covered for him. With no idea where I stood, I finally drifted off to sleep at about 1am.
I woke up at 3am this morning to check. Comment count was at 96!! Unfortunately, someone else has 100 and another yet has 110, so although no official winner has been announced, I am guessing this is one I did not win.
However, I learned a really important lesson about social networking. We all talk about the power of public statements and posts. We get in the pulpit and talk about how it streamlines communication and action to have things like blogs and general public streams of ideas and discussions. And I think these are all very very good things. This is a good way of asynchronously getting together groups of people who would never have converged, otherwise. But when it came down to really getting things done, to really motivating people to action? The personal, direct one on one interaction won out every single time.
I do not regret participating in Chris’s contest.. I got introduced to Geeks!, which I did not know about and found some great new people to follow and interact with over at Twitter. Life is all about the journey.
Oh, and the computers? I have not given up on those yet either.. I found another contest to tackle and try all over again over at Sugar Jones’ Living in Theory blog. You should come and join in the fun. This one is not about popularity or the power of your story alone.. ( thank goodness– no more requests for contests)it is also about community building. I am impressed with the concept, and look forward to applying some of the lessons I learned in the last couple of contests. Watch a little later for my essay part of that entry, and check out the #sugarmagic tags on Twitter to see if we can get a community built up.

Keep it simple?

I know the advice offered up by Dean Rieck in his “Ultimate Blogger Writing Guide” is exactly what I should be doing to increase the readability of my blog and widen my audience. But I find I tire easily of blogs written in small words, with short sentences arranged in short paragraphs. I long for complexity. I crave writing that requires thought and digestions before I decide if I agree or disagree. I love it when an interesting article sends me off to my dictionary to look up a word, which will then be added to my working vocabulary and is certain to show up in a future blog post of my own. I recently used the word “ponder” in a facebook status and had a high school sophomore seriously asking what it meant to “ponder” something. Perhaps, if we were not all trying to write to the lowest, widest common denominator, more readers would be stretched and grow. Then again, maybe they would just stop reading what we have to say…

Playing telephone with the truth..

One of the primary things that many years of studying/practicing academic research science taught me is always go back to the primary source- get as close to the raw data as possible. Today’s latest news blurb nonsense made it obvious that this is true in all areas of life- especially news as spread by social media.

I love getting up to the second news bits and pieces, love that social media helps me find information that would have been lost to me otherwise, but I get frustrated that the growing push to get more pieces out faster is corroding the truth of what is being spread. Here is my latest experience:

1) I receive the following Tweet from @mollywood on Twitter:
“DUDES. Obama may get rid of Daylight Savings Time!? Do it! Do it!″
2) Because I was sitting at my computer, I clicked through on the URL. It took me to a BoingBoing article with the headline “Obama might get rid of daylight saving time”. The lead off sentence reads: “President-elect Obama wants to get rid of daylight saving time in the United States to conserve energy. ” And the short BoingBoing summary has a click through link that reads: “Obama Looks to Axe Daylight Time”. Being a DST hater myself, I was intrigued. I clicked through- what would the man of hope have to say about DST?

3) That link took me to a GreenDaily article with the headline: “Obama Should Axe Daylight Time — NYT Op-Ed Explains Why“. My confusion was growing. Note the change in language between the two headlines, although the BoingBoing article was meant to summarize and highlight the GreenDaily article. This was not an Obama opinion at all, this was a scientific report in the NYT. The GreenDaily article linked through to the original NYT article. I am always looking for evidence against DST, so I clicked through.

4) I ended up on an OpEd ( that Op stands for Opinion, in case you did not know) NYT piece entitled “What’s the Point of Daylight Time?” It is actually a good read and contains references to research done recently with Indiana data- but being an Opinion piece, has no links or references to the actual data or studies. This was an article that originally went into print on Nov 20 in the paper version of the NYT. If I had read this straight from the paper, it would have driven me to the computer to look up the researchers, drive back to the original research. It is too easy to just read something that agrees with your opinion and not check the facts. Unfortunately, this trail that got me here already took too much of my lunch hour, so the real background checking will have to wait until later. You can go do it yourself and comment here on what you find, or wait a day or two for me to update here.

What does this teach us? It took very little effort to go from an opinion piece in the NYT where some researchers are discussing their research and making an open general recommendation to the new president on actions they like, to an environmental blog summarizing the NYT opinion piece and correctly reporting it as the NYT recommending this action to the President-elect to a BoingBoing article that made it sound like Obama was actually taking action. As we speak, the internet is blossoming with articles saying “Obama looks to axe DST”, “Obama wants to get rid of DST”, etc..- all of them linking back to the BoingBoing article. And yet, in NO part of the sources of these articles did any information come from the Obama camp.

I am a proponent of distributed news and social bookmarking. For this to work, we need to keep the flow of information “clean”, rather than a news headline version of telephone that results in a distributed flood of articles with as much veracity as the National Enquirer. Try the following to help keep the information flowing:

1) If you are passing on a news article or “fact”, take an extra 3 minutes and click through to the source.
2)Reference the original news source, in addition to the “pass through” intermediary.
3) Don’t just recap the headline of the intermediary you read,read the original and re-summarize if you think the intermediary got it wrong; or link the to intermediary and give some value add as to why this is good or bad news.