Periscope packs potential for Cooperative Extension

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Periscope, the live-streaming video platform owned by Twitter is packed with potential for Cooperative Extension.

As someone who lived on the dark side for 44 years, that is to say, never knew what Cooperative Extension was or did, I am keen to share my experiences ever since I stepped into the Land-Grant light 15 years ago. Allow me to digress.

Whenever I find myself in a social situation, a wedding, sitting next to someone on a plane or restaurant, I play a little game. I try to ascertain if the person knows what Cooperative Extension is.  You know how this goes. We Americans usually get to the, ‘So what do you do?” question rather early in our nacent conversations. I can answer that inevitable question, with three different, yet truthful responses to which I receive different reactions:

1. Me: “I work for the University of Delaware.” Reaction: “Oh, do you teach?”
2. Me: “I work with 4-H.”  Reaction: “Oh, do you live on a farm?” or “Are you involved with agriculture?”
3. Me: “I work for Cooperative Extension.” Reaction: Quizzical look. Furrowed brow. Head tilt. Long pause. “Hmmm, and that is…?”

This type of exchange happens, with some variation, all too frequently and particularly when I am out of my adopted agricultural county or professional agricultural milieu. In other words, when I am out and about in the business world, or among urban and suburban types of all demographics.  I will qualify that when I follow up Number 3 with “Master Gardeners” they usually nod with a relieved recognition.

i’ve made it my personal mission, in addition to my professional calling, to tell the world about Cooperative Extension.

Social media has a large role to play in this mission, especially in reaching out to a younger, urban, and technologically proficient demographic. We’ve done a good job reaching the rural, newspaper-reading, baby boomers and older citizenry. They’ve heard of us. Kind of. They come to our workshops, they phone us or walk into our Extension offices with a sick plant. Farmers know who we are. Cooperative Extension has gone out into their communities and built strong relationships. We have a right to be proud, but never complacent! There still remains a whole half of a world out there that doesn’t know who we are and what we do. Trust me with this. I was one of them!

Periscope presents new possibilities. Periscope will bring Cooperative Extension to new audiences!

Think of Periscope as Facetime or Skype combined with Twitter and Snapchat. Broadcasting over Periscope places viewers live, in the moment, as the action is happening, be it a concert, a workshop, or a tour of your surroundings. Your audience, which can be global, is transported into your world. Used properly it can be a fantastic teaching tool.

Audiences will find you in different ways. Via a map, accidentally, purposefully, out of curiosity or boredom, or because you expertly targeted them with a clever title or honed your brand. They will come to your Periscope from all different directions and for different reasons. It is an opportunity not to be wasted!

Broadcasts, known as “scopes” can be as long or as short as you want them to be. Note longer scopes will drain your battery and may test your audience’s attention span! Periscope started out and can remain a stand-alone platform, meaning you cultivate followers the same as any social media platform. But when Twitter purchased it, connectivity to Twitter transformed Periscope into a serious communication tool.

When you broadcast an event or segment on Periscope, Periscope users from all over the world have the potential to see your broadcast. How easy it is to find you depends on using clever titles, keywords and hashtags that are of interest to a broad audience.

How compelling your “scope” is depends on your location venue, your topic and how well you narrate the event. If people like your scope, they give you hearts. Kind of like Instagram, except that they can give you many of them. Hearts are highly sought after and desired.

The broadcasts are open to everyone. The default setting allows all viewers to chat, say hello, ask questions of the broadcaster, etc. While scoping you will see people join, but not leave. A running total of current viewers is displayed at bottom right.

Broadcaster Options

You have choices as a broadcaster. Be in the moment. Show what’s going on and let it fade away or save and share what you’ve broadcasted to a limited or permanent archive.

  • Broadcast to Periscope people only (Followers and people who find you from the map)
  • Broadcast to Periscope and to your Twitter account followers
  • Save your broadcast to the 24-hour archive, after which it disappears
  • Save your broadcast on Periscope past the 24-hour limit, e.g., permanant archive
  • Save your Periscope to your camera role. This archive can be repurposed, e.g., YouTube

Controlling Trolls in Educational Posts 

The default audience can make comments. Everyone sees these comments. Each individual viewer can hide the chat by swiping right on iOS and swiping up on Android. The open forum means trolls (aka jerks), users who seek attention by entering off-context or inappropriate comments and can, for a few seconds, show up on your broadcast. The broadcaster can block trolls or inappropriate comments, but it doesn’t erase what they already said. A few seconds of an expletive is an intolerable few seconds! If you are planning to archive, embed or share your broadcast after the fact, you don’t want that content in there for all to see! It can ruin the integrity of your broadcast. These comments can be edited out in post production if you are repurposing your archive for another purpose.

It’s a bit of a dilemma, because on the one hand, as a broadcaster, I want the interaction of a conversation. It adds an exciting element. I scoped a Master Gardener open house this past summer, and viewers asked gardening questions. It was great. i didn’t have an issue with trolls, and the scope, once saved, became a useful archive that could be shared after the fact.

But another scope I did, on how to use Periscope, was ruined by a troll. Despite a good performance and helpful content on my part, the language that popped up made my scope unusable. I redid the scope, this time restricting comments to only those I personally follow. That scope was archived.

Using Periscope is easy. Download the free app. In the interest of brevity, Here is a great article about how to get started on Periscope with good basic, intro advice.

Here are some useful and practical tips to push your scopes to the next level:

1. Invest in an inexpensive monopod, and a smart phone grip or clip with a tripod mount to lessen camera shake. If you are scoping scenery, this is particularly helpful. I prefer the monopod over a selfie stick because a monopod can be used with a DSLR.

2. Write your scope title in your memo app. Live streaming often suffers from connection issues. If you lose your connection, you will want to jump back in as quickly as possible. Best to copy and paste the same title and paste it back in as needed. Use handles & hashtags in titles when appropriate.

3. Keep the title short. Remember, if your scope is going out on Twitter, your title will be tweeted with the preface of “@handlename  Live on Periscope.” I have noticed that my longer titles did not get posted on Twitter.

4. Work with a partner or supporter to retweet your scope broadcast to his or her followers. Because the technology is so new, I broadcast over my own personal handle @mwalfred as I have not been authorized to scope out officially from a work account. But I have broadcasted Cooperative Extension events, so I let my assistant know ahead I am going to be scoping, and they in turn will share my tweet. For example, at a recent 4-H event at the Delaware State Fair I scoped under my own handle, shared it on Twitter and someone else retweeted me on the @Delaware4H account.

4. Learn how to say “hello” in other languages. You will get curious visitors from all over the world. It’s a nice touch to greet them in their own language!

5. Don’t pan the camera too fast. Early on I scoped gardens, with beautiful flowers, bees and butterflies, etc. and I went way too fast. When I watched the replay, I realized I missed a lot of the detail and beauty. Linger. Let your lens take it in. Your audience will appreciate it.

6. Optional: Save the scope to your camera library. If you select this option, your vertical broadcast, while not ideal for iMovie or YouTube, can be repurposed for a 15-second video for Instagram or six-second snippet for Vine.

7. Don’t ambush people. When promoting Cooperative Extension events on Periscope. ask before turning the camera on someone. Master Gardeners and 4-H’ers typically sign photo releases. But ask as a courtesy.  Most people do not know what Periscope is. Off screen, let them know it is LIVE, going out over Twitter, and ask if is it okay to put them on camera. In public areas, you can’t help from getting people on camera, but I do not focus on them. Respect their privacy. A passing sweep is one thing, but putting a close up of a person’s face or making them the subject of a Periscope is not ethical. Don’t do it.

8. The content becomes your brand. What goes on in the day-in-the-life-of-an-Extension-agent? This is what corn smut looks like. Weed ID, Plant ID, Fusarium wilt on a curcumbant. Check out this cool 4-H robot. Let’s drop in on this superb 4-H public speaker! Let’s take a close up look at sheep. Here’s how to make a healthy lunch. Meet Master Gardener Judy Collins, she is going to show you how to divide hostas, irises or how to prune a hydrangea or properly mulch a tree. See this insect? Don’t kill it, its beneficial! The possibilities are endless and very helpful to your audience.

9. Repeat information. People will be joining in at all times of your broadcast, so as a courtesy, review and repeat where you are and what people are viewing.

10. Invest in a portable battery. Periscope is a lot of fun, but it will suck the life out of your battery very quickly. When running Periscope, extend battery life by turning off all other applications. I have a Jackery portable battery and it performs superbly!

A little longer than a lipstick tube the Jackery is lightweight and can follow you everywhere offering 3200mAh of power.

A little longer than a lipstick tube the Jackery is lightweight and can follow you everywhere offering 3200mAh of power.

11. Is it okay to ask for hearts?  Personally, I think it is a little self-serving, but what you can do is ask the audience to heart your subject. I went into a butterfly exhibit, where you could walk in a large netted tent and experience Monarch butterflies up close. I got hearts without asking, but when I lingered on the shot, and said “Let’s hear it for the Monarchs!” the hearts came flooding in. So you can do it without being overt or obvious about it.

12. Be prepared for trolls. Periscope is not YouTube. It is in the moment and that is its charm. There is certain tolerance for whacko comments. It helps to have a sense of humor and not be too thin-skinned. Roll with it and have fun with it. On personal scopes, I ignore what I don’t want to bother with, but if someone is being a pest, or is introducing a tone into your broadcast, by all means block them. You can also tap an option to limit chats to only those you follow. It will reduce the spontaneity of live chat (which I feel is part of the Periscope charm) but if you are producing scopes that you hope to share or embed, you don’t want inappropriate comments emerging. Limiting the ability to chat to only people you follow is an option to consider.

13. Wear the brand or display the banner. Scope in front of your logo, your hashtag and your handle. Make them large and visible. Make posters of your hashtags and handles! If you are appearing on camera as a host think about and possibility stage your background. Wear your land grant logo. Repeat Cooperative Extension. Explain who we are and why we are universally trusted.

14. Scoping outdoors will make it difficult to read comments. Wear polarizing sunglasses, and if you are old like me, wear readers or sunglass readers. If you can’t read the comments, you can’t respond! This is social media. Be social!

15. Narrow your scope’s focus If you have a lot to say or share, that’s fine. Divide it up for more material for future scopes! As with YouTube, the ideal length of video attention-span is on average about 2-3 minutes. Keep it short, punchy, and topical. While I have scoped entire presentations, it was usually done as a convenience for someone who could not attend in person. Expect that a very small number will hang in there past 5 minutes. You are better off recording the workshop in a traditional way and playing back upon request.

16. To appear or not to appear on camera. Anything goes here. You can make the subject your focus, or you can be the host of your own Cooperative Extension channel. Do what you are comfortable with. A nice touch is to briefly appear on camera, say hello, introduce yourself and then point the camera to your scope topic. Anything goes, but consistency is the best way to develop your brand and build followers from an audience.

Periscope, and any live streaming service can pack a punch for Cooperative Extension, but it won’t be every agent, educator or specialists’ cup of Cooperative Extension tea. But we’ve been challenging ourselves to do things differently, haven’t we?  For video content delivery, quite frankly, You Tube is the safer choice. We write a script, we frame our shot. Periscope isn’t perfect and that is exactly its appeal. The real is the appeal.  Scoping is what you make of it. It adds a new flavor to the mix. It is not meant to replace traditional content, but complement the tried and true. With Periscope, choices and options are always on the menu. Periscope possesses a potential to cross over and capture people who aren’t necessarily seeking us out. Periscope preaches to the non-choir. 

Your content and style of broadcasting will be your brand. If a handful of people here and there learn what Cooperative Extension is, get a garden tip from Master Gardeners, or learns about 4-H, then the 2-3 minutes of spontaneity is worth the effort. As creators, we can let that moment disappear, or if it turns out terrific, save it and share it out. Give it a try. As 4-H motto goes, Learn by Doing! Download the app, sit in on a few scopes and watch people are doing. Then pop the bubble, raise up your Periscope and invite the world in!

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Up Periscope

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In February 2015,  Twitter purchased the live streaming application known as Periscope. With that acquisition, Periscope may have indeed left its nearest competitor, Meerkat, in the dust.

What is Periscope? Think of it as Facetime or Skype combined with Twitter and Snapchat. Broadcasting over Periscope puts your viewers or followers in the moment, be it a concert, a workshop, or a tour of your surroundings. Your audience, which can be global, is transported into your world.  Used properly, it can be a fantastic teaching tool, bringing new audiences into your world or workplace.

Broadcasts, known as “scopes” can be as long or as short as you want them to be. Note longer scopes will drain your battery and may test your audience’s attention span!
With Periscope you may choose to:

  • Broadcast to Periscope people only (Followers and people who find you from the map)
  • Broadcast to Periscope and to your Twitter account followers
  • Save your broadcast to the 24-archive, after which it is gone forever
  • Liink your Periscope to a “Katch.me” account where your scopes will be aggreagated and archived permanently New updates about Katch.me (Sept-Oct 2015)
  • Not save it to archive to be watched later and let it disappear after broadcast
  • Save the broadcast as a video to your camera roll (note there is a short window to do this)

While broadcasting, you will see people join. You do not see if they leave, but you are always shown an audience total at the bottom right corner.

Your audience can make comments. Everyone sees these comments. Each individual viewer can hide the chat by swiping right on iOS and swiping up on Android. The broadcaster can block trolls or inappropriate comments.

How compelling your “scope” is depends on your location venue, your topic and how well you narrate the event. If people like your scope, they give you hearts. Kind of like Instagram, except that they can give you many of them. Hearts are highly sought after and desired.

Using Periscope is easy. Download the free app. In the interest of brevity, Here is a great article about how to get started on Periscope with good basic, intro advice.

Like Meerkat and Snapchat, Periscope favors the vertical or portrait orientation. You can turn your phone sideways if you want your audience to take in a wider panorama, but the chat does not auto rotate, so your audience will only tolerate short, selected changes in orientation. Unless it is really warranted, keep it vertical.

Here are some useful and practical tips to push your scopes to the next level:

1. Invest in an inexpensive monopod, and a smart phone grip or clip with a tripod mount to lessen camera shake. If you are scoping scenery, this is particularly helpful.

2. Write your scope title in your memo app.  Live streaming often has connection issues. If you lose your connection, you will want to jump back in as quickly as possible. Best to copy and paste the same title and paste it back in. I use handles & hashtags in titles when appropriate.

3. Keep the title short. Remember, if your scope is going out on Twitter, your title will be tweeted with the preface of “Your Handle Name Live on Periscope.” I have noticed that my longer titles did not get posted on Twitter.

4. Work with a partner or supporter to retweet your scope broadcast to his or her followers. Because the technology is so new, I broadcast over my own personal handle @mwalfred as I have not been authorized to scope out officially from a work account.  But I have broadcasted Cooperative Extension events, so I let my assistant know ahead I am going to be scoping, and they in turn will share my tweet. For example, at a recent 4-H event at the Delaware State Fair I scoped under my own handle, shared it on Twitter and someone else retweeted me on the Delaware 4-H account.

4. Learn how to say “hello” in other languages. You will get curious visitors from all over the world. It’s a nice touch to greet them in their own language.

5. Don’t pan the camera too fast. Early on I scoped gardens, with beautiful flowers, bees and butterflies, etc. and I went way too fast. When I watched the replay, I realized I missed a lot of the detail and beauty. Linger. Let your lens take it in. Your audience will appreciate it.

6. Optional: Save the scope to your camera library. If you select this option, your vertical broadcast, while not ideal for iMovie or YouTube, can be repurposed for a 15-second video for Instagram or six-second snipped for Vine.

7. Repeat successful scopes! As mentioned, archives, if you choose to offer them, only last 24 hours, after which they are listed but cannot be viewed (unless you use Katch.me)*.You will not have access to them unless you have saved the broadcast (sans the chat) to your camera roll or photo library. But your audience can view your profile and see the breadth of your Periscope content. The titles will give them a sense of your Periscope brand. *Katch.me is a free external aggregate service that saves your scopes, however, it will be up to you to let people know about that archive.

As an example, I follow a soccer sports agent in NYC who loves to scope the city’s landmarks and attractions. Ron Waxman @RonWaxman (on Twitter and Periscope) frequently scopes the city from the rooftop of his Upper East Side home. But he has done walking tours and driving tours.  Ron, who I affectionately call the “Pope of Scope” frequently repeats his venues, and occasionally throws in a concert or two or a surreptitious museum tour. His opening line, “Helloooo Peeepole” has become his brand. He’s a hoot! Definitely check him out, he has this down!

Top left, people are commenting and giving hearts, top right, you can see the broadcaster Ron Waxman blocked an account, bottom center,the scope can be swiped to hide the comments

Top left, screenshots of scopes by @RonWaxman.  People are commenting and giving hearts, top right, you can see the broadcaster Ron Waxman blocked an account, bottom center,the scope can be swiped to hide the comments

8. Don’t ambush people. I have scoped a few local events. I have promoted some Cooperative Extension Master Gardener events on Periscope. I ask before I turn the camera on someone. Most don’t know what Periscope is. I let them know it is LIVE, going out over Twitter, and ask if is it okay to put them on camera.  In public areas, you can’t help from getting people on camera, but I do not focus on them and I respect their privacy. A passing sweep is one thing, but putting a close up of a person’s face or making them the subject of a Periscope is not ethical. Don’t do it.

9. The content becomes your brand. I have experimented with this new technology.I scoped my Siamese cat (surprisingly popular) toured my backyard garden, scoped while I walked around NYC and Grant’s Tomb, and broadcasted live garden events where I work, and while I walked through the famous Longwood Gardens. Nothing terribly earthshaking, but interest in topics are varied. You never know what people want to see.  People scope famous landmarks, famous cities, concerts, lectures and workshops. Scope where it is legal to do so. Do not scope copyrighted material, such as those who scoped the season six series opener of Game of Thrones and caused HBO to have a fit.

10. Repeat information. People will be joining in at all times of your broadcast, so as a courtesy, review and repeat where you are and what people are viewing.

11. Invest in a portable battery. Periscope is a lot of fun, but it will suck the life out of your battery very quickly. When running Periscope, extend battery life by turning off all other applications. I have a Jackery portable battery and a Geocobi when I need serious, sustained power. In most cases the Jackery will do the job. The Geocobi is overkill and I have it mostly for the iPad.

The Geocobi is a portable powerhouse and can charge phones and tablets and offers 10.400mAh, but it's heavy!

The Geocobi is a portable powerhouse and can charge phones and tablets and offers 10.400mAh, but it’s heavy!

A little longer than a lipstick tube the Jackery is lightweight and can follow you everywhere offering 3200mAh of power.

A little longer than a lipstick tube the Jackery is lightweight and can follow you everywhere offering 3200mAh of power.

12. Is it okay to ask for hearts? Personally, I think it is a little self-serving, but what you can do is ask the audience to heart your subject. I went into a butterfly exhibit, where you could walk in a large netted tent and experience Monarch butterflies up close. I got hearts without asking, but when I went up and got a close up, and lingered on the shot, and said “Let’s hear it for the Monarchs!” the hearts came flooding in. So you can do it without being overt or obvious about it.

13. Be prepared for trolls, and for unusual comments, possibly due to a language barrier or cultural misunderstanding. I simply ignore what I don’t want to bother with, but if someone is being a pest, or is introducing a tone into your broadcast, by all means block them. You can also tap an option to limit chats to only those you follow. It will reduce the spontaneity of live chat (which I feel is part of the Periscope charm) but if you are producing scopes that you hope to share or embed, you don’t want inappropriate comments emerging. Limiting the ability to chat to only people you follow is an option to consider. Click here for recent updates on how to control unwanted comments!

14. Promoting a product? Scope in front of your logo, your hashtag and your handle. Make them large and visible. Make posters of your hashtags and handles! Stage your background.

15. Scoping outdoors will make it difficult to read comments. Wear polarizing sunglasses, and if you are old like me, wear readers or sunglass readers. If you can’t read the comments, you can’t respond! This is social media. Be social! During the Master Gardener garden tour, I got great questions from the audience,which I relayed to the MG volunteers on the spot. This is great engagement! They were happy to answer questions!

16. Scoping tech topics and how to’s? Narrow your scope’s focus to one or two topics. If you have a lot to say or share, that’s fine. Divide it up for Mmore material for future scopes!

Periscope is what you make of it. Your content and your style of broadcasting will be your brand. I am plodding through in trial and error. Far more comfortable with the written word and being behind the scenes, I shy away from going on camera, but others do and I think it adds a great personal touch. Periscope has an enormous potential to reach new and younger audiences. If a handful here and there learn what Cooperative Extension is, get a garden tip from Master Gardeners, or learns about 4-H, I am happy with introducing people to where and with whom I work on that level. I am not looking for thousands of followers.  As I play around with the platform, I am getting better at it, and finding things to share. I’ve toured my back yard, shared the antics of my Siamese cats and even scoped a short helicopter ride (iphone in one hand scoping, a DSLR in the other hand) it was crazy, unscripted and I received my largest audience and hearts as a result. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As one of the 4-H mottos goes, Learn by Doing! Download the app, see what people are doing and raise up your Periscope and invite the world in!

Top 10 +1 musts for Extension Facebook pages

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Lately, I have seen television commercials where a web service will create a Facebook page for you for free! And for a monthly fee, even post content for you! Ah if it were only that simple.

Many organizations, including Cooperative Extension, have invested a significant presence on social media, including Facebook pages, which are free and easy to set up. It used to be simple after that – tell your friends to like the page, post content and everyone who liked your page would see the updates. Those simple days are over, and like most things on social media, a well-planned strategy is the key for success. Cooperative Extension is recognized across the world as an organization that provides unbiased, research-based information that people can trust. We have good things to share. Naturally, we want to get the word out to as many people as possible. Facebook is one such tool for outreach. There are quite literally, hundreds of Facebook page management tips to share. Here are my top ten (plus one) tips for Cooperative Extension to have in place on their Facebook pages.

1. Make sure your page is classified as “education” instead of “nonprofit” or other designation. Facebook gives preference to content from education pages as opposed, to nonprofit, retail or a politician’s page.

2. When setting up page roles, always have a minimum of two full administrators on the account. In case of emergency, relying on one administrator can be a big mistake and grind page management to a halt.  Administrators can add adjunct roles like content editor to part-time contributors or interns. Administrators can remove roles or delete a page. Regardless of the role, everyone who posts content should be briefed with regard to voice and tone and your organization’s overall content plan (see #s 5 & 6).

3. Have an amazing timeline cover photo. This is part of your brand. You can change monthly or seasonally or create a mosaic. Photo dimensions are 851 x 351. Profile picture/avatar should be your logo and should be the same image as other social media avatars so that your brand is consistent across all social media platforms.

4. Mobile app and desktop versions of Facebook are signficantly different. With this difference comes limitations. Chief among these is the ability to use Facebook as a page and navigate around Facebook the way individuals can.  It is important to use Facebook as your page and engage across the Facebook platform. In desktop versions, or from a mobile browser (not the app) at top right, you can drop down an arrow and leave your personal identity and switch to your page name. Once you do this, your avatar will change. Your Extension page is now able to like other pages (and should), comment on other stories (and should), and tag other pages in your content (and should). Example: If the New York Times or your local news’ Facebook page does a story on an Extension topic, your page can like that story, comment on it and share it. And should! People read comments! In a browser-based Facebook, you also have the ability to change icon identity at each post location.

Administrators/editors will see the pages they manage iin a drop down arrow top right of a browser/desktop version of Facebook. Changing as your page allows you to navigate across Facebook as your page. This is important in involving Extension's presence within Facebook and it allows you to like other pages, engage with them and comment on stories!

Administrators/editors will see the pages they manage iin a drop down arrow top right of a browser/desktop version of Facebook. Changing as your page allows you to navigate across Facebook as your page. This is important in involving Extension’s presence within Facebook and it allows you to like other pages, engage with them and comment on stories!

5. Vary content. Facebook will penalize your organic reach if you continually post the same url source or post the same type of content. Mix it up. Content should be a.) internal website b.) other people’s website or other people’s content c.) original photo d.) video, etc. Never post the identical content on Twitter or other social media platforms or use an automated service that posts on one platform and repeats it on another. Twitter and Facebook have completely different audience bases and content should reflect those differences.

6. Consider a weekly theme plan. For example: Mondays recognizes a volunteer. Tuesdays can feature trees, technology, etc. Wednesday can focus on a program area, a ‘how to’ tip. Thursdays can look back, nostalgia, or focus on outreach, a particular animal, etc. Friday can be fun, futuristic, a photo caption day, fun food fact, or the day you post a comic. Let Saturday zero in on science, feature a cool microscopic photo, infographic, an interesting statistic and set Sundays for a thoughtful or inspirational quote, a look at the week ahead, a DIY tip, trivia for audience to guess what a photo might be, or fill in the blank challenge. While Facebook has never been a hashtag haven, they can be effective tools when used sparingly. Adopting a trending hashtag into your post now and then, such as #throwbackthursday is a good idea.

7. Keep posts short. Facebook is moving toward mobile. Despite some limitations with the app, growing numbers are checking in via smartphones. No one wants to see a long paragraph of text. A strong photo is more important. Conventional wisdom now says Facebook should be as short as Twitter, if not shorter. 140 characters or less. One expert said recently the ideal Facebook post is 70 characters! Eek!

8. Timing. How often should you post? Twice a day, once a day, two-three times a week? Day, night, evenings or weekends? Pay attention to your insights, particularly when reach and engagement peaks. Post when your audience is likely to be on Facebook. Studies indicate weekends are optimal times. The frequency of your content depends on the variety and quality of the information you have to share. One of our highest engagements came on a snow day when everyone was home and on social media talking about the weather! Bottom line, know your audience and study your Facebook insights for what works and what does not.

9. Support other Extension pages and content. Share and engage with them. There is strength in numbers. We are colleagues and part of a larger community of outreach. We need to support each others’ pages and tag each other in content. This is the ‘social’ in social media! If your Extension group has more than one page (4-H, county pages, livestock, ag, horticulture) please consider cross supporting each of those pages by sharing and tagging. All of these programs and departments ultimately fall under your Extension umbrella. In Delaware, we’ve consolidated our Facebook presence down to one Extension and one 4-H page and that makes sense for our smaller state. However your pages are organized, it is important to support and to study what other Extension offices are doing in social media. What posts are getting the most comments, shares and likes? If it is appropriate to share their content on your page, do it! The public might only know Extension through a specific program, for example, Master Gardeners. But there is nothing wrong with a livestock page shouting out to a 4-H page, or a 4-H page referring to a FCS or horticulture post. This helps the public understand the broad reach and brand of trust that is Extension.

10. Request Extension staff to comment and share your page’s content on their timeline. It is great when staff likes a post, but it doesn’t help much. The key to exponential growth and reaching new audiences is getting other people to share content on their timeline. Never ask anyone to share or like a post in the post itself, because Facebook will detect that text and actually penalize your post’s organic reach. But within your organization it is helpful if you can communicate to your staff how private account sharing can help. Most people don’t realize how this works and are glad to help. In terms of value, sharing is best, followed by commenting and then last –  liking. My family and friends on Facebook now know more about Extension than they ever did!  I don’t share everything, but I do share a good bit on my timeline and I have seen my friends respond to the content on their own. Most are glad to get the valuable information Extension provides.

11. You may have to boost a post now and then. Never assume the number of likes your page has, whether it is 200 or 2,000, is seeing your content. They are not. You are lucky if you are reaching 5%. Facebook is no longer serving your content to your entire page fan base.  Not for free. Reaching more of your audience, organically, depends on how original and clever (and shareable) your content is. If you want all your fans and their friends to see your content, you are going to have to pay. The good news, it is fairly inexpensive. A $20 investment can reach tens of thousands of people.

As social media platforms and options continue to evolve, social media managers are wise to expand beyond Facebook. Over-rely on Facebook at your own peril. When you’ve built up to 1,000 followers, but Facebook only delivers to 50, despite your best efforts, it is time to add other platforms to your strategy. Twitter is equally, if not more important. Instagram has great potential for story telling through images. Vine and Periscope are impressive short video and live feed coverage, respectively that can spice up Twitter content. Twitter owns both Vine and Periscope.

One other tip that I have not enumerated, but throw out for debate (because I have not yet seen a definitive answer) is the practice of removing a url address in the post once it populates in the preview. It has been my habit to erase the url once the preview appeared because it looked neater and cleaner. I recently read on LinkedIn a suggestion that it is beneficial for organic reach to leave the url in place, and many people chimed in on the comments that it is decidedly so.  I haven’t seen the evidence. Stay tuned. More on Facebook’s algorithms here.

 

I read the news today, oh boy

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…and you weren’t there!

Facebook and Twitter deliver their (your) news feed content to their respective audiences in completely different and challenging ways. Although technically similar, it is important to understand how these feeds work when employing a strategy to maximize your content and audience reach.

Facebook

Most of us know or have heard that following a page, or friending a person does not guarantee that we will see that specific post or status update in our news feed. Facebook uses highly sophisticated algorithms to determine what we see in our news feed. An individual’s engagement with a post (liking, commenting and sharing) is the largest determining factor whether or not that same individual will see more of the same from the page, friend or family member. In so many words, Facebook decides if we are bored or excited by our news feed based on our behavior. So, it’s very likely we are missing a lot! Updates we might actually be interested in. Check the timeline on the page or person you are fond of and you are likely to see they are sending out more than you are getting.

If you are on the sending end – hoping your information reaches all of your family and friends, or all the “fans” or the people behind those sought-after page “likes,” then, well… let’s just say you have some challenges ahead.

  1. Produce content that elicits a reaction. Will the reader say to themselves, “Oh wow, I have to share this!”? Does the content invite comments and conversation? Is it visually interesting? If your answer is no, it is time to step up your game.
  2. Page administrators: pay attention to your insights. When did content spike? Are you only reaching 79 of your 500 fans? Are your friends awfully quiet? Only receiving a handful of post likes? It is a sign you need to be less boring and also more engaging with the people whose attentions you seek.

Packing a punch on Facebook

  1. Avoid third party services whenever possible. A link you post directly into Facebook will get more traction than content delivered from using a third party service like Hootsuite, or TweetDeck. Yes, they are convenient, but Facebook will penalize you in the news feed for using them. Sharing photos? Don’t rely entirely on external sites like Flickr. Great photos should be uploaded directly to Facebook and also as a link to a Flickr album. Mix it up.
  2. Avoid boring pictures. No one wants to see a photo of a person giving a PowerPoint presentation. Yes, we know you gave a fascinating talk. Instead, feature a photo from that talk and write about a key message.
  3. Keep posts short. Facebook does not have a character limit, but research shows shorter posts get longer attention. Get to you point fast. Let the picture or link do the talking. Many experts now say the ideal length for Facebook is 80 characters! And you thought Twitter’s 140 limit was too restrictive!
  4. Pay attention to timing. Did your post fall flat? Consider posting the same content again on a different day or time. Change it up just a tad, use a different picture, etc. Just don’t repeat consecutively!
  5. Don’t be a One Trick Pony! Mix up your content. Picture, website link, Facebook video, Vine, link to a PDF, YouTube, and sharing other Facebook page content (like a partner organization).
  6. Boost posts. On important content, experiment with spending $5 or $10 to boost a post. This will remind your page fans you are still alive and kicking. Once there, they might look around and see what you have been up to. Only boost sparingly and when the content is helpful or spectacular (share-worthy).

Twitter

Twitter does not filter out content from your “Home” news feed. If you search by hashtags, Twitter will offer “Top Tweets” or “All Tweets” as a choice to cut through the onslaught of information. But with Twitter, you see who you follow, and therein lies the problem. News on Twitter whizzes past your screen faster than you can say “Caitlyn Jenner.”

twitter search

If you post great content at 9 a.m., but your target audience member checks his/her feed at 11:30 a.m., guess what? Your information is pushed back in their news feed. Way back. They may visit your account to see what you’re up to. They may decide to swipe up 20 or 30 times to see what was missed. Chances are they’ll start from where they jumped on, so your news is long gone. The solution is easy. Repeat and repeat again.

A quick look at The Washington Post’s Twitter account shows they do exactly that. They typically post their top news items every two to three hours in a 24-hour news cycle. Feature stories, infographics (they’re huge with U.S.maps) can be shared twice a day or multiple times during the week.

Breaking through on Twitter

  • Pace your delivery. Don’t marathon tweet one after the other, seconds apart. That’s spam. Have dynamite photos? We don’t have to see all 20 at once. Pace and space, please!
  • Repeat breaking or important news several times a day or within the week. Just not in a row! Space it out over time and among/within other content. Big event coming up? Don’t tweet it once and forget about it. Different audiences come on at different times. Be there!
  • Upload great photos!
  • Use the right hashtags. Part 1. If you run out of room, change or alternate the #hashtags in repeat tweets. Delaware example: First, tweet of a photo of children learning safety at a day camp might use #safety #NetDE (our state aggregate). Later in the day, we might use #summersafety #KidsDE and if we sent out a third Tweet we might add in #EduDE #bikes #camp. See Holy Hashtag!
  • Use the right hashtags. Part 2. Don’t make hashtags up if a good one is already in use. People search hashtags for content. Don’t make it hard for people to find you. Use the hashtags everyone is using, or, if it is a new event hashtag, talk to other tweeps and ask their help in promoting the hashtag use. Place the event hashtag on event materials so people will know to use it.
  • Repeat content. Yes, this bears repeating!
  • Vine & Periscope! Video and live streaming brings your content to life.
  • Stop connecting to Facebook! Really, do I have to jump in, sign in, or sign up for Facebook to see your content? Don’t make me do that! No more fb.me’s, please!
  • Sparingly connect to Instagram! I do occasionally auto-connect to my Instagram. The operative word is “occasionally.” See above bullet. It’s a way to let people know you have an Instagram account, but don’t overdo it. Think about it. Would you rather deliver a picture this way? Twitter picture

or this way?

Instagram picture

It’s not easy to navigate through all these social media nuances. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I learn from them, share those lessons, and most importantly keep experimenting and innovating!

Social media contests now include me!

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Last month I responded to my sole congressman, Rep. John Carney and his request to submit a photo that depicted some aspect of the Delaware River Basin.

Two ships along the Delaware Bay

Last September, I took a lucky shot with my then iPhone 5, of the Cape May Lewes Ferry passing by the Kalmar Nyckel (16th century reproduction tall ship) that I had just left. I have a good Nikon, but the iPhone beat it out hands down.

Out of 200 submissions, this photo made it to the 15 finalists, the winner to be determined by Facebook votes or likes. I am up against some pretty amazing photos. But, if you think it’s worthy, please vote!

https://www.facebook.com/JohnCarneyDE/photos/a.940810362635934.1073741923.156024857781159/940810592635911/?type=1&theater

Thank you!

~Michele

Optimize your web images for SEO

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The images you post on your website, blog, and on certain platforms like Flickr, play a powerful role in driving Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and traffic to your site.

Think of the times you have searched on Google, Bing, Yahoo and others for an image that you might use for whatever purpose. (The issue of copyright is always important to consider and is addressed is a different article).

I use Google image search a good bit. Here, I searched for the term “Delaware farms” and here is a screen share of my results:

Google Image Search 1

This is the first page of my Google image search for Delaware farms. These pictures show up because they are titled or tagged with those keywords, and possibly if they are shown in context with my search term.

I like the first one so I select it:

Google Image Search 2To the right of the image, Google provides option to view the image (this is necessary to see and perhaps download (if it is legal to do so) the full resolution). It also offers the option to see the image in the context of the website. This is how an image can draw people to your website, and how a lot of people, consumers, future customers, and students find you – through image searches. Often out of curiosity, I want to see the image in its fuller context. Don’t underestimate how many people select “Visit page.”

Google image search visit page

As you can see, I am asked if I’d like to visit the page (web location) where the image exists or simply view the image by itself. Access to these images do not address copyright. One must assume all images are copyrighted unless marked otherwise. Visiting the site and contacting the page owners is a good first step in determining whether you can use the image – permissions can depend on your purpose.

Will the images on your blog or website show up when people search for a term?  If you want to drive traffic to your site, how you label your images can make a big difference.

Unfortunately, I often see the following mistake.

This image accompanied a news release about a new agricultural program. The press release rested on a WordPress blog page, not unlike the one you are reading now.

This was the picture posted in the website. Part 1 of 2.

This was the picture posted in the website. Part 1 of 2.

This was the accompanying media file information for the picture on WordPress. The webmaster or blogger is the point person who controls how an image is titled, tagged and described.

Original media file information uploaded with picture. Part 2 of 2.

Original media file information uploaded with picture. Part 2 of 2.

As you can see in the above screenshot, the title was a file number! Likely assigned by someone else, maybe a photographer. Other obscure titles such as, “DSC_1145” or “image3044” are void of descriptions and do nothing to advance your SEO. They tell Google absolutely zip about the photo. No one ever searches for terms like “DSC_1145.” Titles and descriptions like this are SEO opportunities flushed down the toilet.

All the other fields are left blank! This is a mistake if you are trying to increase your Search Engine Optimization.

What are these fields and what do they do?

Name the image for SEO

To clarify:

1. It is better to change the name of the image before you upload. Keep it simple, but descriptive -two or three keywords is a best practice. If I have a vineyard and my picture is of grapes, the picture title might be “grapes-delaware-vineyard.”

2. In sites like WordPress, you can change the title after you upload it. Go ahead, please, and erase the series of numbers or “image_1234” and plug something in that actually matches the image and a term someone might actually search for.

3. Captions are optional. Sometimes I use them, sometimes I don’t. But any text used in a caption becomes HTML language that is searchable!

4. AltText. This is different than a title. It is language that appears in some browsers and pops up when the user hovers over the image. The language you enter describes the image. It is particularly helpful for people who are visually impaired or who use text-to-speech software. A short sentence – “people looking at raised bed gardens” or “boy on a playground swing” is all one needs to do. Many organizations mandate that this field is completed in order to be compliant with the American for Disabilities Act.

5. Description. Filling out this field is very important if you want to optimize your image appearing in searches. Write a sentence or two or string along a series of tags; garden, people, raised beds, vegetables, my business name, date, my website address, organics, etc… Descriptions do not appear in your website, but search engines do crawl across the terms. If people search for a term that exists in your description, you are more likely to get a hit. It might help you move from page 82 of the search results to page 4. You never know.

Domains with .edu will always trump and be more prominent than .com or other domains as far as delivering results. But if these domains don’t title their images, they lose their advantage. Nevertheless, educational websites should maximize their optimization by filling out these fields as much as they can.

Flickr, an image storage and sharing platform can serve as a HUGE driver of traffic to your website. I use Flickr to search for images licensed in the Creative Commons, and therefore allowed, under different restrictions, to use the image as long as I source where I obtained the image.

On my personal Flickr account, some of my pictures are licensed to Creative Commons, others are private or restricted. Almost all of them however, are labeled so that they can be found via a Google image search.

I took a bunch of pictures receently and uploaded them to Flickr. This screenshot shows that they are also available for people to use in Creative Commons

creative commonsAs you can see, they are all titled “Waples Pond, Milton, Delaware” They are also tagged “pond,” “sunset,” “nature,” etc. When I have time, I go back in and re-title similar images so that I cover all the main keywords, e.g., “sunset on Waples Pond,” and “Delaware January sunset.” 

A week after posting these images,  I searched for “Waples Pond, Delaware” on Google image search. I left off Milton as a term. Already, only six days old, one of my images shows up as the second choice on the first page of the Google imae search!

waples pond image searchOthers appear lower down. If people clicked further, it would take them to my Flickr site, or anywhere else I might have used it publicly and named it or posted it publicly, such as on social media.

On Flickr, I can take it a step further and use the photo description to drive traffic to my business site (if I had one) an Esty site (if I had one) or other location or website I was trying to promote.

Here is an image taken of a Master Gardener workshop on miniature or fairy gardens. It was specifically labeled so if people were searching for fairy gardens on the Internet (a very popular garden trend last year) they might have come across this picture. I also added “hypertufa” in the image title. Each photo title in the album varies. I could have labeled all 63 photos the same, and I did originally, but I went back in and tweaked several so they were specific, like this hypertufa example. This practice explains the 205 views. This image will appear in a hypertufa only search.  In addition, I used the description (which in Flickr is public) to direct viewers to find out more about the Master Gardeners and their programs. With that many images views, why not?

If you type in a url in the description area, Flickr activates the link. Each image in this album is strategically named for SEO.

If you type in a url in the description area, Flickr activates the link. Each image in this album is strategically named for SEO. Viewers who want to know more can click on the blue hyperlink.

The lesson. Name your pictures thoroughly if you wish to increase your public profile or drive traffic to a particular website.

My website on Chinese cartoons drawn by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist from the 19th century has received 56,000 visits in just over one year. It is not exactly a hot topic. Or so I thought. But every image iI uploaded is fully titled with the cartoon date name. Most are fully captioned and described. As a result, the cartoons I have posted often trump those of much more established sites. The statistics WordPress provides tells me that thousands of the referrals to my Nast website came from image searches from the main search engines. Once there, statistics show that the people who might have come because of one specific image, look around and visit other pages.  I can’t ask for anything better than that. If I had named the images “cartoon 1.” “cartoon 2,” and so on, I have no doubt my statistics today would be significantly smaller.

Think about your topic and your purpose. What terms might your targeted audience, or a potentially new visitor search for?  Will your images point them to your website?

 

Can I use this image online?

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A flowchart infographic makes the confusing realm of copyright, fair use, and public domain a little bit easier thanks to Sylvia Rosenthal Talisano and Meryl Zeidenberg on the website Lang Witches. Read about the research that resulted in the copyright flow chart.

 

Developed by Sylvia Rosental Talisano and Meryl Zeidenberg for langwitches.org

Flowchart created and developed by Sylvia Rosental Talisano and Meryl Zeidenberg for langwitches.org

Promoting a business on Instagram

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Recently a jewelry store owner asked in an open LinkedIn forum, how to promote her business on Instagram. With some modification, here was my response:

Setting up Instagram is easy. Many companies and retailers are using Instagram to market their business, products and brand. Right now it is free, like Facebook used to be. Predictions are however, that some day in the near future, accounts opened for commercial business will likely have to pay to reach all of their followers, as they now must with Facebook. Remember Instagram is owned by Facebook. But for now, go for it. Some tips.

1. Use the same logo/avatar/icon for Instagram that you use for Twitter & Facebook or other social media accounts. Brand consistency is important.

2. Keywords are the way people will find you. I have experimented with this and I have gone back in and added keywords to photos one or two years old and received new visits and likes. My preference is to write one or two sentences (max) without hashtags and add hashtags at the end for readability.

3. So say you are posting a necklace for sale. Write a description, item number. Then add descriptors. #jade #silver #vintage #modern #blue #red #jewelry #fashion #accessory etc. people search for all kinds of things. People will say, only use 1-3 hashtags or else. Well, Nat Geo has hundreds of thousands of followers and they heavily hashtag most of their pictures.

4. Make sure your website is in your profile. That way you don’t have to put it in the post with the image. You want the text that accompanies your image to be as conversational as possible.

5. Follow some people, again using the hashtags of what your target audience might use. Comment on their photos or like them. Don’t spam or promote your photos as comments on their photos. If you comment on their dog photo and say “cute puppy, I have a lab too” they will check out who you are and find out about your product. If you spam them with a “buy this” type of comment they may block or report you. Be who you are as the account administrator, who just happens to have a business. The more genuine you are, the better. Search for hashtags such as #jewelry #necklaces #fashion #earrings and see who is talking about those topics and follow a few.

6. Occasionally post photos about things you like – don’t just sell. Be a person and a personality.

7. Occasionally link to your Twitter, but not all the time. When you do, those posts should only have 2-3 hashtags. You can edit Instagram later to add more ###’s, but this allows your Twitter audience know you have an Instagram and vice-versa.

8. There are apps and widgets that allow your Instagram feed to appear on your website.

9. I am not a fan at all of posting once and going out to all your social media accounts. That is considered lazy. Hashtags are not well-appreciated on Facebook and are a no-no on Pinterest. Audiences are completely different on each of these platforms. If all your posts are identical across all platforms you will gain one place, but lose in another. Tweak for each platform.

10. Look at other vendors on Instagram. The ones with lots of likes (hearts) and comments are the ones you should study and emulate.

11. Talk about your industry. If a famous person is wearing something interesting, comment about it, perhaps mention you have something similar.

12. Like Twitter, it is best to follow a few at a time, build your following list, then follow more and go back and forth like that and build your following gradually. If people see you are following 1,000 people but you only have 15 following you, they might not take your seriously.

I also love these suggestions from Holly to make your photos on Instagram creative and interesting!

Is reading a book a dying art form?

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I live in Sussex County, Delaware, the most rural of our state’s three counties. Transplanted voluntarily from the the more urban/suburban New Castle County,  I quickly began to appreciate and marvel at the genteel, rural charm and nature of the people here, who are openly friendly to strangers. These rural inhabitants, who are jokingly (and somewhat derisively) referred to as “slower lowers”  are the kind of folks who will introduce themselves on the phone, chat with you for a bit, before getting down to business. A little friendly chat never hurt anyone.

Admittedly, some of this ruralness has rubbed off and I am glad of it. When my daughter moved to New York City, got married and had a baby boy, my first grandchild, it became more convenient for me to visit her than the other way around. Out of necessity, I learned how to do the whole subway thing.

What I was struck by, in those frequent rides on the N train from Manhattan to Astoria, was that no one talked to each other during the commute. Anything to avoid eye contact, let alone a real conversation. I remember paying a compliment to a young lady sitting to my right – admiring her choice of shoes, only to feel an elbow jab in my left side as my daughter admonished,

“Ssssh, mom,” No one does that up here!” <<eyeroll>>

My naive attempt at being friendly in NYC was not appreciated by the stranger on the right who simply smiled and shrugged, embarrassed my daughter on the left, and evidently ID’d me throughout the train as a tourista, a much maligned urban nightmare infamous for slowing down the sidewalk traffic as they take in the sights and sounds of America’s largest city in utter wonderment.

Awakened to these new realities, I began to notice the obvious. Almost everyone had their heads buried in a device, with a cord running up to both ears. A few had Kindles or Nooks. But mostly smart devices. A few people put back their heads, sans pillow, closed their eyes in an attempt to capture a few of those famous New York minutes of glorious REM sleep.

I never noticed that hardly anyone was reading a book. Dutch photographer Reinier Gerritsen did, who as the following article states, “spent 13 weeks over 3 years scouring the subway system of New York City for riders reading books. His book, The Last Book, captures the phenomenon.

http://petapixel.com/2015/01/25/photographer-shoots-portrait-every-book-reader-spotted-subway/

How interesting that reading books is now a significant deviation from the norm! My daughter rarely pulls out her cell phone on the subway, but it is for a different reason. As a young mother, she is unable to freely chase a thief that might snatch a valuable cell phone out of her hands right before the subway doors open. With a toddler in tow, she has more than enough on her hands to occupy her brief subway rides.

I adore my tablet and iPhone. I appreciate the convenience of my Kindle, but nothing can replace holding a real book, feeling the texture of the bond paper in between my fingers, and the relaxation I derive from fidgeting with the corner pages when I am deep in concentration. I resolve to read more in public, so that young people know it used to be an American pastime.

Imagine, in the world of smart, reading the old fashioned way is a dying art.

“Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – R.E.M.

My Phone-less Day in London

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My good frieind Catherine reblogged this, so of course I had to read it too. Kristian’s experiences in London echo a growing (I hope) sentiment shared that is shared by people like by 32 year old daughter who is raising her 18-month old son in New York City. It is her wish that my grandson is not too overly fascinated by the ubiquitous screen – the “sea of phones.” When she married in 2011, she placed a piece of paper on everyone’s seats, asking them not to use their cell phones during the ceremony. She didn’t want to see the sea of screens in her wedding photos. Can’t say that I blame her. A fan of Jack White, she recounts  the absence of hands held in the air, not applauding but recording the event. It is not about copyright. White wants to see his audience faces and see them enjoy the music, instead of capturing the memory on a device. It’s good to challenge why we collectively feel the need to capture every experience and memory with technology.

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A sea of screens. Photo source: Escapistmagazine.com

Look around, we’ve created this dependancy on a technological middle man. A tangible buffer that is translating and filtering our organic perceptions. As much as I love technology, there is reason for concern. Sometimes the best devices are the ones we are born with. I rarely leave home without a camera or an iPhone, but I am trying to use it less, or at least in tandem with my own biological memory. I want to absorb more organically, not record pixels. Ironically,  Dutch photographer Reinier Gerritsen published a photos taken of people reading books on the subway – a near extinct cultural practice.  I applaud my daughter and Kristian, the author of this piece, for noticing there is an issue. Their wisdom and insight to see with their eyes and remember with thier organic hard drive. Enjoy this post!

Pixelated Lifestyle

Last year I visited London for a few days as I needed to go to the US embassy to pick up my working visa for America. Luckily I have a friend in London who kindly let me stay at her place for a few days. My interview was at 8am in the morning. If you have ever had one of these dreaded embassy interviews before you’ll know that you aren’t allowed to take anything in the building except your passport and documents.

So after my interview ended at about 10am, I was in the middle of London without any technology. No phone, iPod, camera, watch, gameboy, tamagotchi, NOTHING! I was alone with only my thoughts in one of the most exciting cities in the world. I thought I’d make the most of this rare occasion and go exploring for the day.

It felt so liberating! I felt like Neo in

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Does your company have a crisis plan for social media?

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Does your company have a crisis plan for social media?

Sooner or later you may unleash a Social Media Fail. Pre-plan! A comprehensive social media guideline for your organization can prevent social media mishaps

Sooner or later you may unleash a social media FAIL. Pre-plan! A comprehensive social media guideline for your organization can prevent social media mishaps! Image source: sketchport.com

We’ve all seen it happen. A post too quickly made without review goes out, causing some level of embarrassment. An inept political statement, a rogue or angry employee outburst, a mistake by a new intern, any post ill-timed or in bad taste, a joke that wasn’t funny, a negative news story about your business or personnel. There are hundreds of examples – but BuzzFeed showcased 19 of notable social media fails.

What do you do when bad news goes viral? Don’t ignore it.

We are human beings. It can happen. Try to prevent it of course, and respond wisely when it occurs.

Create a plan by sitting down with your organizational leaders and conceptualize all worst possible scenarios, however unlikely, that could arise and be expressed on social media. This might include:

1. Employee misconduct or criminal activity
2. Bad customer reviews
3. Video exposé or revelation
4. Traditional media story that sheds controversy or unfavorable light on business or industry (direct or indirect)
5. Employee or past employee anger, vendetta
6. Unauthorized access to social media accounts;hacking
7. Offensive photo or content on website
8. Intern new-employee error. Inappropriate or opinionated posts by inadequately trained staff
9. Politically incorrect statements when neutrality is a prized position
10. Inappropriate statements on religion or politics
11. inappropriate sexual content
12. Mistakes with images
13. Appearing to profit from or capitalize on a tragedy or other’s misfortune

Can you think of any others?

First meet with your organization’s leaders and draft a written procedure – an official social media guideline document which clearly states your company’s mission, voice and tone regarding social communication. The document should contain a matrix or clear hierarchy pointing to a specific person or team to directly respond.  Social media experts point out that the most successful responses to social snafus are those that quickly deal with the damage in a direct and transparent way. There is nothing wrong with a good, healthy mea culpa and then move on. Identify who will do the speaking. Who will phrase the response?

Consider developing a response script or template for any given “what if” situation as a best practice. At what level does a social media manager act, and at what level does the permission for the communication need to be pushed up the chain of command? It is important that the social media manager, if there is such a person, clearly knows his or her role.  Everyone involved in social media communications should be familiar with these procedures and who should be contacted for response. What is the role of the general employee? Should they comment? They might be prodded to weigh in. Do you want that?

A social media policy should state expectations of language and vernacular as well as tone or voice.  Not using expletives for most is common sense. But what if a post says something “sucks”? Wouldn’t “disappointing” be a better word choice? Problems often enter when there are too many hands stirring the social media soup to begin with. Multiple contributors (therefore multiple voices and chances for mistakes) could be ameliorated by creating a social media portal (web form or email) where content is submitted and vetted by experienced managers before publication.

Are there restrictions for what employees say about company on their own time and on their own accounts? It is wise to address this issue in the social media guidelines. Have a clear policy on political and religious statements made in the context of your organization. Any social media guideline policy, as it nears completing should be vetted by the organization’s legal counsel.

For Consideration:

Who owns the social media handle? Does the handle stay with the company or does it travel with the employee? Whose email is attached to the social media account? This needs to be stated implicitly.

Review password access anytime there is a change in personnel (planned or unplanned). Passwords should be a combination of alpha, numeric and symbols. Limit the number of people who have access to social media accounts.

Take a screen shot of any offending post to archive for your records and then delete. If an egregious mistake has been made, there is no reason for it to linger and continue to attract attention. Deleting the offending post does not make it go away however. It has likely been seen, screenshots taken, etc. You may need to address the infraction publicly.

Respond quickly to a crisis. Do not delete negative comments by the public unless they contain expletives or is obvious spam. Companies build their brand by how they respond to negative situations. A negative incident can turn into a time to shine.

Address unhappy customers online immediately, apologize for the experience they are having and arrange to discuss further offline. When settled satisfactorily, politely ask (not demand) that customer follows up with another, more positive comment.

Self-effacing humor can do wonders to eradicate a smaller errors. Did a Tweet go out with bad spelling? Has it been retweeted before it was discovered and deleted? Comment, mention Monday mornings, not enough coffee, “all thumbs” and move on. We all have those days.

Require that all employees/volunteers who have social media access to your organizations accounts, fully read and sign the social media policy. Social media changes rapidly. Review company social guidelines every six months.

Image: sketchport.com.

Do I have to learn this Twitter thing?

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Farmers: the group who use social media the least, needs it the most

Next week, an estimated 2,000 farmers, growers and agriculture stakeholders in Delaware and the surrounding region, will attend Delaware Agriculture Week, January 12-16, 2015 in Harrington, Delaware. The event will use a hashtag #DEAgWeek.

Attendees will hear about the latest research from Extension professionals. They will be exposed to new tools and technologies to help them farm more efficiently and more ecologically. They will learn specific techniques. Delaware Ag Week is a substantial platform to learn how to do it all better.

  • How to apply less pesticides, herbicides and fungicides through IPM techniques, cultural rotation practices, cover crops
  • How to protect the environment through better nutrient management practice
  • How to use water efficiently through precision agriculture & irrigation management

If last year is any indication, few, if any, will go on social media to share what they’ve learned. With this large of a crowd, #DEAgWeek should proliferate and trend. But I suspect only a handful of people will use the hashtag in a live tweet.

And that’s a shame. For on social media, anti-agriculture voices are strong and active. New generations, who are only getting their news from mobile devices, are being told modern agriculture is harmful. There is a lack of positive information. A lack of balance.

The lack of social media balance isn’t for a lack of smart phones.

Many farmers have smart phones. In rural areas like Kent and Sussex County where Broadband and high speed Internet is all but spotty, smart phones are often the only reliable means of connecting to the Internet. Farmers use them to access weather updates and use apps that work in tandem with GPS and other technologies. Of course, they are used as telephones too!

But Twitter? Forget about it. Particularly with older generations, there is an inherent reluctance to use social media. They consider it silly. Superfluous. Superficial.

Last year, I gave a social media presentation to a group of about 100 of poultry growers. When asked who used Facebook, a few hands went up, mostly from women. Rephrasing the question for Twitter or blogging, zero hands went up. “You mean to tell me I have to learn this Twitter thing?” one retorted. His hands folded across his chest, I could see he was having none of my argument. Others shared his posture. He spoke for many of them. They weren’t interested.

Then I showed them pictures from the Internet. Many pictures, and they weren’t pretty pictures either. “This is how you are being defined on social media,” I offered. They began to lean in. Yet, even with the ubiquitous usage of ‘factory farm’ and ‘frankenfood’ terminology, replete with mad scientist and hypodermic needle imagery, getting on board with social media remains a very big leap of faith.

According to the Center for Food Integrity, which surveys consumer attitudes about food, a key factor in building consumer trust rests with the opportunity to meet the farm family who produces the food. The tremendous success of farmer’s markets proves how important this relationship is in building trust and confidence. These markets provide an opportunity for people to ask questions about how their food is grown. Concerns about GMOs or applications of pesticides are often mitigated if the consumer feels the farmer shares their values and has used best practices to bring healthy crops to market.

Relationships on social media can be built in the same manner. We need the voices of family farmers in the social arena to share their positive agriculture stories and images.

Social media can be a tough sell for farmers of a particular generation. There is nothing wrong with preferring old-fashioned interactions. A handshake, the kind of mail with a stamp on it, a conversation instead of a voice mail message. There is real validity in face-to-face interaction.

But the fact remains, a whole new generation of consumers are growing up on and learning about agriculture from social media platforms. What they learn about agriculture is not always positive and seldom accurate. Misinformation is accepted as fact and spreads unchallenged. For balance and fairness, the voices of farmers and farm families need to be part of this new way to converse and market goods. Social media is not going away.

So, Delaware farmers, consider downloading that Twitter or Instagram app. Share one new thing you learned from Delaware Ag Week. Use the hashtag #DEAgWeek. I’ll settle for just one attempt. One teensy, tiny tweet!

There’s a team of us that will be on the look out for that hashtag, ready and eager to share your family farm good news to the world!

Nonprofit marketing: A social media approach

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Let’s be frank. Most nonprofits do not have the resources, the budgets nor the staff, to substantially develop a social media presence, let alone strategically market their mission to the public, to partners and supporters and future donors. Traditional means of marketing, print and broadcast are effective, proven methods, but they are expensive. The potential for younger demographics and new audiences clearly rests with social media, and most pack a lot of bang for the buck, which for a lot of social media is zero dollars. That might change in the future, but right now, for nonprofit social media management, the deterrent is the costs of human resources and time it takes to go on social media and do it right.

A good part of my full-time job is promoting social media for Cooperative Extension and Delaware 4-H. In 2014, I was awarded a fellowship from eXtension.org to study social media best practices. In addition to that experience, I had the opportunity to delve into nonprofit marketing for an education client as part of the 15-week University of Delaware Social Media Marketing Strategy course I recently completed. In developing strategic plans for all of these, many commonalities emerged – techniques that can help those on a restricted budget make the most of social media. Since no one platform is the panacea or magic pill, a school of thought has emerged which argues for a social media shotgun approach – pellets of content sprayed across a wide virtual stage, with a better chance of hitting targeted audiences.  That is fine if you have the time, people and money. Most of us don’t have the luxury of hiring one or two full-time social media managers and being an expert player in all of the platforms.

Here’s what I have gleaned so far:

  1. Define your organization’s target audience. This may be multiple audiences. That is fine, but be clear who you are trying to reach
  2. Study the demographic trends of each platform. Match the platform to the audience. Example, Facebook might be ideal for parents, families, individuals, and Aunt Edna. Not so much for other businesses. If you are looking for donor or legislative awareness, Twitter may be more suitable. Instagram is very youth friendly. Pinterest is currently driving e-commerce. Pick two of the most appropriate platforms and learn them well before taking on any other ones.
  3. Create a weekly content schedule – general guidelines to help shape your content. Monday is link to website day, Tuesday is inspirational story, Wednesday is a YouTube video, Thursday focuses on an employee or volunteer profile, etc.
  4. Follow an annual editorial calendar. Make note of holidays, national observance days, specialty weeks and months. Find ways to make your content connect to those occasions.
  5. Does the public know your brand? A logo? Use it everywhere. Be consistent with it. Your appearance across the different social media platforms should be consistent. The brand should be visible wherever possible. On shirts, on banners, backgrounds, etc.
  6. Use the hashtags everyone else is using. Breaking through with a razzle-dazzle campaign that involves a special hashtag is fine when you have built up your audience and beyond. But not before. Get established first. People search commonly known and used hashtags. Be on the list of conversations that apply to your organization by using the right hashtags. There are many online resources that will explain how hashtags work.
  7. Customize content for each platform. Do not, under any circumstances, practice a one-post-fits-all approach that populates identical content across all platforms. It might appear as a tempting time saver, but is considered counter-productive and social media lazy. No, no, no, no no! Did I say no?*
  8. Study what other nonprofits are doing well on social media. Take a look at what platforms they are using. If they are doing #7, ignore them! What does XYZ post on Facebook and how does that differ from what they post on Twitter or Instagram?  Ignore the number of likes on Facebook and observe the engagement of each post. Are people liking, commenting and sharing? If they are, that organization is doing something right.
  9. Divide and share the responsibility. Consider developing a volunteer social media team. Train them on principles and strategy. Make a big deal about them & celebrate them. If not volunteers, assign a portion of social media responsibility to two or three staff members.
  10. Engage with and mention your partners and supporters. In social media this is called tagging someone, most often by using the @ symbol before the page or user name. Don’t just spit out your data. Interact with others. Be social on social media. Enter the conversations that surround your area. Stay local if your audience is local.
  11. Don’t over-rely on Facebook. If you have a page already on Facebook, you’ve noticed a lot has changed. The number of page likes your organization earned has become an irrelevant number. Success on Facebook is now about engagement and reach, and it is tough to get. Your content has to be fantastic, or you have to pay. Read these suggestions for how to shed those Facebook algorithm blues.
  12. Use free tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to organize and schedule your social media content. The holiday observances and events from #4 can all be posted ahead of time through these free schedulers. Note: Images shared via Twitter come through as a link.
  13. Videos and really strong photographs are proven engagement drivers. If you have a fantastic photo, upload it directly to the platform and try not to use management software, which will turn the picture into a link. You want the image to pop right out automatically. People might not see it if they have to click a link.
  14. Revisit your website. Ask an outsider to look at the content and the graphics. Maybe it is time for a fresh look. In most cases, this is affordable. Make sure your social media icons are prominent.
  15. Consider timing. When is your audience home or on their mobile devices? Many have touted the effectiveness of weekend posts. Who wants to work on a weekend? You don’t always have to. You can schedule ahead directly from Facebook, and can use software (#12) to schedule in advance. We have found snow days to be a particularly good time to post. Experiment. A good rule of thumb is 2-3 times a week on Facebook and 2-3 times a day on Twitter (which could be simply responding to the content of others).
  16. Develop internal guidelines. These should cover basic paid and volunteer staff behavior on social media, the voice and tone of the social media communications (serious, humorous, quirky, a mixture) and crisis response (both the procedure and response) to negative experiences or press.
  17. Know how to measure success. You can’t create content and hope magic happens. Free analytic tools are available within Facebook and Twitter and these are important to visit and observe and know what worked and what didn’t. When a graph peaks and a percentage soars, you are on to something and you need to repeat what works and ditch what doesn’t.

Nonprofits do the people’s work. Support of their noble missions often rely on the goodwill will of the public, overall public awareness, and financial support from civic leaders, taxpayers or other grantors and partners. Most social media is “free” but it is not without its costs.  Real human relationships develop across and within these virtual institutions. Social media has become a crucial tool for nonprofits to stay in touch and expand their outreach and make the important connections.  It is an arena they can ill afford to ignore.

*Okay, one exception! If you have an Instagram account, it is okay to occasionally share an Instagram photo to your Twitter account, just so people on Twitter know you have an Instagram account. But don’t make a regular habit out of that. Twitter is photo-friendly and if you upload a photo via Twitter, it opens up and is easily viewed by all. Via Instagram, it is just a link.

Holy Hashtag!

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Is there any #rhyme or #reason to these #socialmedia #symbols?

Image source: mmartinweb.com

Image source: mmartinweb.com

In the early 1960s, when I was a very little girl, a telephone man (remember them?) arrived at our house with a new gadget – a push-button telephone! Down went the rotary dialer and up on the telephone table went its replacement, a new, modern innovation replete with cool Touch-Tone sound effects.

My brother and I hovered over the new household phenomenon and we asked aloud what the symbols meant that flanked the Operator, the * and the # buttons.

“Oh that is for something in the future,” the telephone man said, probably an outright guess on his part. Decades later the “pound sign” ushered in voice mail and automated customer service and everything about how we communicated on phones changed.

Source: biztraffic.com

Source: biztraffic.com

So too, on social media, where the pound or number sign is called a “hashtag.” In the many “Intros to social media” workshops I’ve conducted, the biggest audience question is about those hashtags! “It’s a way to isolate or track keywords,” I often explain, to which there is a lot of head scratching and seat shuffling. Late adopters to the Internet and social media don’t always make the connection and think these hashtag thingamabogs are rather silly. I have to back up and start slowly.

Simply put, hashtags serve as a tool to sort content. I use the example of Delaware. On Twitter, if I search just “Delaware,”  I get results for my state, plus Delaware, Ohio and maybe Delaware Indians. If I use “DE” I get my state, but also a lot of Spanish language articles. In our state, we have a catchall hashtag, #NetDE that anyone can use if it has something to do with Delaware. On Instagram, #Delagram is preferred, but #NetDE comes in second. I know this because I studied what others on social media are using over and over.

I have used it in a sentence to replace the state, “Congrats to our #NetDE #4H youth who won the #robotics championship! Way to Go!”  Social media practitioners get it, but they don’t always get it right. There is considerable debate on how many hashtags to use, and what platform to use them on. Like many, I’ve tried and erred – not always happy with the tic-tac-toe interruptions across my brief, but carefully crafted prose.  I continue to experiment with them, making hashtag mishaps along the way. But through observation I’ve picked up some good tips as well, and often times those little hashtags are helpers!

Example. On my Twitter feed, I noticed a lot of buzz about a weekend convention called Social Boom—one of many successful networking and training weekends devoted to social media and social media marketing. Many events like this have their own hashtag and this one was, (drum roll) #socialboom.

I didn’t attend, but I got the next best thing by following the many people who did and live tweeted all the good stuff. I followed #socialboom on Twitter by going to my search bar, typing it in and clicking “All Tweets” and every 30 seconds or so, someone would share a tidbit learned from the conference. The posts and or feeds drop down like a news service.  It was like I was there. I could almost taste those tweets. From #socialboom I learned the following:

Never use hashtags on Pinterest. Not a good idea on Facebook or LinkedIn. Most definitely Yes on Twitter, Vine, Google+ and Instagram. If you see hashtags on Facebook, this is likely due to someone connecting their social media accounts to each other. Type once – populates everywhere. People do it, but among social media experts, it’s a big no-no. Hashtags on Facebook are not necessary, probably okay for a specific social media campaign, but as a rule no. Tagging yes, hashtags no.

And people can’t agree on hashtags either! I wish they would make up their minds! Throwback Thursday is a social media trend seen across most of the platforms. It’s when folks post vintage photos for the day. Lots of fun. Love it. But I have seen #tbt, #throwback and #throwbackthursday. For character spacing/saving, #tbt makes the most sense, but if you are searching, you have to know what is being used, and what all of them are! So I agree, it can get confusing!

Another example is #thewalkingdead vs #twd. Since #twd can mean many things (the weather doctor), and might be used for multiple reasons, the longer hashtag is the more standard/popular. It depends on context and timing. If you see #twd on Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. it is a good chance it is the TV show and not a weather expert!  You will commonly see a mixture of them for big events like the SuperBowl, The Golden Globes, etc. For notable events, I use and follow what the entity’s website has established as the official hashtag. They should know! But for big, national or international events, be prepared to see variation. Not everyone gets the memo!

On Instagram, I had already been experimenting. I usually kept my hashtags at @MDW302 to an acceptable level of three or four. #NetDE and #Delagram are the two most used to connect photos to my home state. Other than that, one might find #garden #Siamese and generic noun keywords that describe the main subject of any particular photo. I alternately use these within the sentence, sometimes tacking them on the end.

National Geographic often incorporates hashtags in their sentences and tacks them at the end

National Geographic often incorporates hashtags in their sentences and tacks them at the end

However, I observed that well-known photographers and those with large Instagram followers used a whole lot more than four. They used the hashtags like web meta tags, making every descriptive term into a hashtag, usually placed at the bottom. So, a simple picture of a sunflower, taken on a sunny day in August might be followed by: #sunflower #flower #garden #petals #yellow #august #summer #bluesky #fresh #sun #sunshine – and on and on.

If you have a complex photo… well, you can just imagine! I don’t want to be a hashtag bombardier, but I tried the technique a few times on some pictures I thought were worthy of a larger audience. I added a half dozen or so hashtags. In almost all cases, I received new interactions (hearts/likes) outside of my small network of followers and many new followers to boot.

Lesson learned: experiment on Instagram. People are out there searching for other people who like taking pictures of the same thing. They find you because of the hashtag. You don’t use, you lose! There are people collecting and curating images by hashtag. #Siamese became #siamesecats, #cats #catsofinstagram #meezer.

If gaining followers is your thing on Instagram, try adding a few more hashtags. Try not to be obnoxious with it – don’t deliver a steady diet of hashtag horror! Everything in moderation!

Instagram now allows you to edit the text (and hashtags in photos). In a 4-H account I manage, there was this adorable picture of a team demonstration, and one young demonstrator was dressed as a cow (the demo was on milking). Originally I hashtagged for the State Fair, our state, and that was it. The picture received 10 or so likes. Last week, I went to that same picture and added #dairy #milking #cow #4h #cute and the picture instantly gained another 20 likes, almost overnight. Instagram is very hashtag driven!

The Mack Daddy of Hashtags is Twitter. Here are some Twitter hashtag tips:

1. Study first! Find out what your target audience and influencers are using. Agriculture often uses #ag but we also use #FarmDE or another state postal code. In social media, people use #social, #sm #socialmedia, with the latter being the most popular. A recent education service in Delaware was trying to get established on Twitter and were going nowhere fast. They weren’t using: #EduDE #KidsDE #NetDE in their posts, so the Delaware education leaders who used those hashtags remained in the loop, the new Twitter account’s tweets stayed outside the loop because they did not study commonly used terms for their area (location and topic).

2. Sticking to two or three hashtags is always a safe bet. Zero hashtags on Twitter is not good, especially if you are starting out on the platform.

3. Develop an internal hashtag for your business or organization. This is for curation. Example, a wine store may ask customers to use a hashtag and show what food they paired the wine with when they get home. Great idea! Customer tweets the picture using the hashtag, and the wine store can search this and retweet the image. This is earned customer engagement. At @Delaware4H we developed #DE4H. Why? Well, we want other accounts – youth, teens, parents, and volunteers talking about their 4-H experience. They can use #4H, but that is the national 4-H hashtag. They can tag us in a tweet or Instagram to get our attention also.

Example 1: “I am having a great time at @Delaware4h camp. Today I learned about soil health” That tweet TAGGED our account so we can use it and retweet it or curate it. Not bad. Tagging will get our attention, but it is longer than a hashtag. But it works. It allows us to know about other people who are talking about us.  It is up to us if we want to share it. But to tag us means our audience has to know our handle, @Delaware4h. It might be easier to remember the hashtag we are trying to promote #DE4H.

Example 2: “I am having a great time at Delaware #4H camp. Today I learned about soil health #DE4H”  This tweet would get the attention of national 4-H because it used that hashtag, and also by us, because we search for #DE4H so we can curate the content.

Example 3: “Having a great time at #DE4H camp. Today I learned about #soil health.” This Tweet would be seen by us as long as we are searching for that hashtag. Anyone else talking about “soil” would also see that post.

4. Check to see if the hashtag is already in use, and if so, for how long. Duplication happens, but you want to avoid any if possible. If you select a hashtag for your event, it does not mean you own it however. Inherent ownership comes from repeated and sustained use, but they aren’t copyrighted! Timing and context is a factor. Search the hashtag you are thinking of using and find out if others have used it, how frequently and how long ago. If the hashtag is current and popular, you might need to find another.

5. Check the appropriateness of the hashtag. In my UD social media class, our instructors showed an example used by British fans of the Dallas Cowboys. They used the hashtag #CowboysUK. The capital U was meant as a separator, but sound it out!  (Cowboys Suck). Yikes! I don’t think that was their intention!

6. Lower and upper case matter – for aesthetics only. We have an annual event called Delaware Ag Week. The hashtag is #DEAgWeek the capital letters help separate the words, but if people use #deagweek it will work just the same.

7. Having an event? Create a hashtag for it. #SocialBoom is a great example. Another: in March, 2014, the National eXtension.org Conference met for a week and chose #NeXConf. When others use the event hashtag, they can be searched and retweeted by the event host. Hashtags also allow the host to curate social media content for that event. There are many aggregate curation platforms out there. I have used Storify, Tagboard and RebelMouse, but there are many others!

8. With a limit of 140 characters on Twitter, hashtags take up valuable space. The shorter the better, but visually they should make sense. Avoid symbols, dashes, underscores in your hashtag if you can. Numbers are fine, but bear in mind, it is an extra step for users of mobile devices.

9. If you don’t use hashtags, hardly anyone will find you. Again, be aware of your industry, your interests, your target audience and the people who are talking about what you talk about and want to join in the conversation. Study and emulate.

10. Avoid making up hashtags (okay some do it for theatrical affect) but if you are the only one who knows what the hashtag means, you are wasting valuable space. Nix the #iamhavingaterribleday type of hashtag.

11. Hashtag a keyword when it is valuable to the discussion. For instance, if I were a banker and I mention I took my kids to a farm on a family vacation, I might say, “Kids really enjoyed visiting the farm. Here is a picture of a #goat we saw” Goat is hashtagged because that is what the picture is about. If on the other hand, I am a farmer, blogging or advocating about agriculture, I might retweet that photo and say, “love this #goat pic a visitor took at our #FarmDE today. #ag ” Use hashtags on words that have meaning to your discussion. When I tweet about social media on Twitter, I always combine the two words and put the hashtag before. “I learned a lot taking my #UDel #socialmedia course.”

12. Use hashtags to look for and participate in organized talks. I follow #FoodChat, #GardenChat, #AgChat and #EdTechLN. These chats are held in a regularly scheduled time slot, are moderated with offered questions to which participants answer, and use the chat hashtag. They normally last one to two hours, depending on the popularity of the topic. There are organized hashtags on almost all topics.

To live in a harmonious hashtag world, study the best and imitate the rest. Moderation is always a good thing. Change it up occasionally and try new techniques. Oh… and #Have #Fun!

Delivering it digitally!

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Not your mother’s thesis: how blogs, social sharing and SEO brought academic research to life and to thousands

In late 2012, I created a WordPress blog as an unofficial companion to a graduate research thesis. A student at the University of Delaware Master of Arts Liberal Studies program (MALS) I examined famed 19th century political artist Thomas Nast’s treatment of Chinese Americans – a group of U.S. immigrants who were under particular persecution. I had the great fortune to work with a national authority on Chinese American history, Dr. Jean Pfaelzer, author of Driven Out. A professor of English at UD, Jeanie’s guidance and advisement shaped me toward completing a traditional, written master’s thesis.

As I examined images and jotted down ideas, I created the WordPress.com site as a way to help organize my thoughts. All along, the web and digital information served as an important tool and I liked seeing my thought process in this format. I initially focused on Nast’s treatment of Irish Americans. As it happened, Nast’s legacy was on the hot seat. Upset at the many disturbing images Nast drew of the Irish, many Irish Americans sought to thwart his recent nomination to the New Jersey Hall of Fame. They debated and created an online furor, successfully preventing Nast’s induction and honor. My little blog became part of the conversation and I picked up some modest visitation as a result.

Meanwhile, I observed a strong adversarial relationship between the Irish and the Chinese in Nast’s cartoons. This relationship, largely ignored in academia, refocused my energy on the 46 cartoons Nast drew of the Chinese, many which represented Irish participation and aggression. As I populated posts, the statistics surged. By the end of 2012 the site had received 10,000 visits.

Not bad for a cartoonist a century and a half past his prime, literally drawing attention to an historical issue,  long since faded in memory of 21st century America.

In October 2013, Dr. Pfaelzer and I attended the University of Delaware Digital Humanities Forum, where one speaker, Dr. Ritchie Garrison, presented his archive of family Civil War letters. Garrison argued that sharing his research project to potentially thousands via a website made more sense than delivering it in a bound and printed publication, a document that only a handful of students or colleagues might check out on a library shelf. His argument made sense.

Intrigued, Dr. Pfaelzer and I looked at each other and realized my thesis would best be served up on a digital platter (and platform).

Unlike a linear presentation of material with a beginning, middle and an end, people can arrive at website content from all directions. One of my arguments (and admonitions to my fellow, Irish American audience) was to proclaim the unfairness of looking at Nast’s work out of context. How would I prevent that with my project? A well-organized site with considerable cross-linkage (and some tolerable repetition) of key and related content, was essential.

Moving forward in early 2014, I changed the WordPress theme to a premium version of Twenty Fourteen, allowing me to customize colors and fonts and offer featured images and headers. Having received permission to use the high resolution scans available from the academic version of HarpWeek, I named each image by its original title and date before uploading to my website. It is crucial for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that images, on any website or blog, be easily found through user searches.The more content that exists, adeptly labeled, the higher the page ranked over others.  One thing is clear, people go to their favorite search engines to find images. Will your images lead readers to your site?  Many who search an image go on to see it in the context of the host page or website.  No one will ever searchfor “image 0123” or another generic name. Photos, images, and graphics uploaded without searchable titles and tags are resources poured down the SEO drain.

Each uploaded image on my website received meta tags, a caption and a descriptive, keyword-laden title. WordPress stats reports that a significant number of visitors originate from Google, Bing and Yahoo image searches. Page visits always exceed user visits, evidence that once there, people check out more than what they came to find. That is optimization at work.

Key terms are hyperlinked. One of the biggest mistakes on websites is the use of “click here” or other generic call-to-action selected as a hyperlink. It is much better to hyperlink a title, “please visit my Thomas Nast Cartoons website” than it is to use the bland “click here” to view the website. How you name hyperlinks matters!

In addition to supplying a comprehensive bibliography, I provided a blogroll or links to related research and websites and many have reciprocated. Bloggers benefit when they support each other! WordPress stats allow me to track this activity and it is considerable. Again the lesson: the secret to social communications is being social and interactive!

Site visits continued to mount. By the time I graduated in May 2014, www.thomasnast.com had reached upwards of 28,000 visits. I was elated. The stats correlated along an academic school year, indicating my site was being utilized as an educational resource. Referrals came from high schools and colleges from across the globe. Inquiries – the search engine terms, both specific and general, found their way to my site. During the summer, visitation slowed, but the site still managed an average of 50 or so visits a day at its lowest rate.

I was contacted by Korean educational television station, similar to PBS, to be interviewed about the history and usage “coolies” in the U.S., and while knowledgeable, I was by no means an expert on that topic, and I referred them to Dr. Pfaelzer.

Visitors and students contacted me. News organization and historical websites and blogs linked to my content. When NPR linked to one of my images on their Tumblr blog, I received 370 visits on that one day. Nast’s images are everywhere, but those linked to my website are prominent because I have optimized them to be. NPR picked my Nast cartoon over others because I worked to make mine easy to find. I also learned my website was part of an LSU moodle course – but I didn’t have the student password to their curriculum to see how my content was used!

By the time I presented my research to the national Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Program (AGLSP) in October, 2014, the site had surpassed 40,000 visits. The stats do not reflect my visits. At present and on average, the site receives upwards of 800 visits per week. I shared this data at a presentation I gave at a UD’s MALS dinner in November.

In early November, 2014 I presented some key statistics about my website to the MALS community.

In early November, 2014 I presented some key statistics about my website to the MALS community.

As 2014 came to a close, visitation reached the 48,000 mark. WordPress reports that 38.500 came in 2014 alone. What is the marketing secret?  The 8,000 gain across a month and a half was due in large part to MALS adding my project as part of their promotional material to attract new students to the diverse offerings of the MALS program, and two nice articles in UDaily and UD’s Messenger helped! In addition, all posts and pages display social media share buttons, easily added through WordPress.

WordPress tracks how content is shared directly from the post or page. I created a Facebook page as a companion to my site, and the site sports a “Find us on Facebook” avatar,  but the Facebook connection is not a particularly strong driver of traffic in either direction. Marketing via Twitter holds more promise. Occasionally I tweet one of my posts on a personal Twitter account @mwalfred, usually something along the lines of “this day in history” and I yield a measurable amount of traffic from that type of activity. I follow and have been followed and retweeted by Nast enthusiasts and those who share an interest in political or historical images, people who are interested in Chinese or Irish American history or immigration in general.

My annual cost for the website is $99. In addition to the customization features, the fee includes a custom domain. In addition, as a premium user of WordPress, I benefit from their occasional promotion of my site as an example to potential premium users. I appreciate this attention which pops up time to time in the referral section of the statistics.

By far, the highest traffic is via Google, and a lesser extent, Bing. That is why SEO is so important. I am dumbfounded when I discover that webmasters upload graphic content that is labeled “image,” “DSC_####” or an inexplicable, long series of numbers. Everything in a blog should be tagged, labeled, and categorized to help point traffic to your site or blog.

Although my thesis project is now officially graded and concluded, the digital format allows the flexibility to upgrade features. I continue to tweak, finding better ways to articulate a point. My plans are to create a short documentary, upload it to YouTube and feature it in the overview. I can add and credit related research, and include multimedia when relevant. Going digital gives me that flexibility.

Where my research was concerned, digital delivered! Never in my wildest imagination could I predict the interest in this subject. I am heartened by the curiosity of others and amazed at the pathways they travel to find information.  My effort is only one of several billion blogs out there. Mine is a niche topic for certain, but 48K and counting, is a nice niche I am only too happy to capture!

Update: As of January 2017, the website had reached 207,000 visits!

 

 

Nine Social media resolutions worth making for 2015

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Image source: Nine colorful birds via cutcaster.com

Image source: Nine colorful birds via cutcaster.com

Reflections. Year in Review. New beginnings. ‘Tis the season for making resolutions (usually in the diet category that most of us will break). But here are my 9 resolutions for social media worth considering and easy to keep!

1. Use caution at public WiFi locations. No online banking or other sensitive work-related, password-protected online activities at free WiFi locations without using a VPN service. Go on, forget that diet. Free WiFi is a real health hazard!

2. Change your passwords to alpha, numeric and symbols. Consider a sentence to help remember it better. Or, consider a password manager.

3. Have a focused purpose or strategic plan for your social media efforts. It’s okay to toss out some experiments and see what sticks and what slides, but a focused topic and a targeted audience is the gold standard for success.

4. Do your due diligence! Think before you spread online gossip, false statements and possibly online malware. Resist the OMG! moments and too-good-to-be-true giveaways. Your online credibility rests on this! Don’t download apps in order to view videos. Read up on privacy settings.

5. Search engine yourself and do it often. What is your online persona? Do you have a personal brand? You might need one!

6. Engage more this year. Converse. Be social on social media.

7. Have a social conscience. Business and profit is fine, but use social media power occasionally (or often) to be useful to others. Actions, advice, attention to an issue —you can make a difference!

8. Go beyond the #FF. Pay it forward. When you make others look good, you’ll look even better. Shout someone out. Say thank you. Credit someone who doesn’t expect it. Take a newbie under your wing.

9. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing means you’ve tried. Not every effort will be a success. Failure teaches. If you learned a lesson from a failure, then you are a big winner!

And have Happy New Year! See you online!

 

The bait and switch has worked – the end of free social organic reach

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“The free lunch we all enjoyed, is over,” Jay Baer

Digital media marketing expert Jay Baer explains how and why the Facebook model to pay for organic reach will travel to all platforms. His explanation of reliable reach is well worth considering in building a social media strategy. Baer has reversed his thinking – older conventional wisdom that a rifle or targeted approach on one or two platforms is the correct strategy. He sees the writing on the wall and the future is a shotgun approach; more content, buck shots of content if you will, splayed out across and customized for a growing number of social media platforms. You don’t know who you are going to hit, but chances the more you shoot, you’ll impact something or someone. Notable segments are at 16:30 and 24:00.

This strategy of course, has its challenges, namely resources, time management and sizes of social media teams. Good and bad news for existing social media mangers – “job security” is assured, but without additional help, your secure job might be an impossible task!

Christmas Battle: Fitbit Versus Barnes and Noble — Fitbit By a Knock Out

Here’s another social media customer service experience from my #SMstrategy14 classmate. It echoes what I wrote earlier about customer service. Some do it right. some not. https://walfredtechtalk.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/social-media-and-customer-service/

Bill's General Thoughts

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times – At least from a social media perspective.

Let me explain.

Wednesday night (Christmas Eve) at the dark and witching hour of 5:30 pm, the jam-packed Barnes and Noble Book store at the Christiana Mall in Newark, Del was bustling when this announcement came over the speakers mercifully interrupting yet another round of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, “Attention Barnes and Noble shoppers the store will close in one half hour. Please make your way to the cash registers.”

And at the two banks of about four cash registers each stood at opposite ends of the store, ready for action, one check out person each.

Barnes and Noble Mangers flew up and down the escalators going, it seemed, everywhere but to the cash registers. And of course at one cash register one poor checkout women had…

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Facebook angers with its “Year in Review”

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Facebook has done it again. It has offended numerous readers with a chronological slide show called “Year in Review.” A father, who lost his daughter this past year, went to the press to complain about Facebook’s insensitivity. Others are insulted that Facebook’s mysterious algorithms have peered into their photo galleries and decided which images were important enough to share.

It is a made up crisis. Facebook merely spit out what you have already put in. Those who are outraged – who are on Facebook voluntarily and who share personal pictures on their timeline without a thought or care – have no idea the feature is entirely customizable, and shown only to the reader – the “Only Me” setting until the owner of the account decides to share it to the virtual beyond.

Mine popped up with an picture of me on the cover, an old coot elated at earning her masters degree this past May.

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My initial thought was, “Oh what’s this?” and I clicked inside to watch how the events of my year unfolded. It included some odd, out of context images. I also saw what many appear to have missed; an option to share and an option to customize! I played with mine for a while, adding and removing photos, tweaking text and tinkering with the lead-in title and trying on the different background designs for size. I even added a little tribute to a beloved cat I had lost. When I was happy with the results, I shared it – to myself. I hadn’t seen anyone else’s and I did not want to be the first in my Facebook crowd to share what I will admit is a slightly narcissistic review of “me, myself and I.” But then again, isn’t all of our posts on Facebook like that? Eventually I shared it to a limited number of friends who like this kind of schmaltz, and I put myself in that category as well. I admit the voyer in me enjoyed reviewing the “Years” my friends shared.

Facebook’s robotic algorithms chose the photos based on the engagement rates each image or event received. It selected the images that received the most Likes, Comments and Shares. That is how it understands what is important in your life, odd or not. The rest of the decision making was chronological. Google+ did the same thing, making a movie of my life this past year. I don’t nearly post as much on that platform as I do Facebook. My cell phone images are automatically archived. I apparently took a lot of photos of slide show presentations I attended. My Google+ year in review was rather clinical and boring, set to uplifting music. I couldn’t edit it and I definitely didn’t share it.

No one forces us to sign up for Facebook, or post pictures of our children, vacation spots, home renovations and pets. It is our responsibility to use the privacy settings for content and who we let into our virtual life as friends.

Those outraged at Facebook for this end of the year novelty jumped the gun. They need to take a deep breath, do some due diligence with the social media platforms they are on, and take the time to understand the privacy settings and opt-out options available to them. As Auld Lang Syne begins to ring and “year in review” compliations proliferate thoughout the media, we need to look before we leap and think before we scream.

Epilogue: Facebook’s Year in Review has received national attention. In the future, Facebook might want to consider a big “DRAFT” watermark across the suggested post that appears in Newsfeeds. “Year in Reivew” comes off the widely (and wildly) successful Facebook is 10 movie, which chronicled readers’ posts from 2003 to 2013. The movie slideshow, put to pretty piano music, was a hit among readers. As with the Year in Reivew, contents of the movie were entirely customizable, a feature that most people figured out. Naturally, Facebook wanted to repackage that success. Their failure, if you can call it that, was not explaining the customizing feature well enough in advance.

New to Twitter? 15 tips to grow followers

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My former boss, whose primary source of income was stock market
investments, once told me it is not how much money you make, but
what percentage you are earning. If one invests $100, the immediate
goal is not to turn that into $1,000, but be happy to earn twenty
percent or $120.

Gaining social media followers should be evaluated by the same
criteria. Especially on Twitter. The focus should be on quality
engagement and not quantity of followers.

As of December 7, 2014, I have 577 followers. That doesn’t seem like
a lot. You can hardly call me a mover and a shaker on Twitter. But
I am happy with my progress thus far, particularly if you know where I started.

In early 2014, I created a new Twitter account with a goal of developing a professional brand. I left my old account behind, which had no focus, and started anew. By September, when I enrolled in the University of Delaware’s Social Media Marketing Certificate Program, I had built up to approximately 235 followers.

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Already on an upward trajectory, taking UD’s Social Media Strategy Certificate Program in the fall of 2014, brought noticeable results. Analytics.Twitter.com

Four months later, when I graduated from the program with new knowledge rattling around in my brain, I had more than doubled my followers. As I progressed through the class, I put my lessons to practice and organically grew my Twitter followers.

Here is how I did it:

1. Follow only a few essential people at first. Watch your “Following” number. Follow the accounts you must, e.g., local businesses, local press, etc. If Twitter made you follow a bunch of people to get started, like celebrities, unfollow them.Pick the ones that you really want and need.

2. Engage with the people you are following. You selected them for a reason, so let them know when something they tweeted was helpful. Thank people for following you. Comment on a photo. Don’t use an automated thank you replies.

3. Use keywords that are appropriate to your purpose on Twitter. For instance, I always type social media as one word and always with a hashtag. “This #socicalmedia advice is terrific!” People in the social media world have found me because I make that one change with a hashtag.

4. Emulate the best. Observe how successful accounts are doing it. Take the time to study successful practitioners.

5. Participate in organized chats, sometimes known as ‘tweet ups.’ I regularly participate in #agchat #gardenchat and most of my followers have come from that participation. We’re all beginning to know each other. It is where Twitter feels like home. There are organized chats for almost every subject.

6. Gradually add new accounts to follow.

7. Unload accounts that don’t follow you back. There will be a few must haves – celebrities for instance rarely follow back, but you might want to follow them anyway. I follow several particular accounts for news that do not follow me back, and that is fine, but as a rule, if you aren’t getting anything out of the content and they aren’t following you, cut them loose. Try them again later.

8. Watch your Following to Follower ratio. When you follow someone, they will be notified and may check out who you are. If they see you are following 1,500 people but you only have 35 people following you back, you might not be taken seriously. Ideally, your Following number should be relatively equal or even lower than your Follow list. We all have to start somewhere. It is better to Follow 20 and have 15 Followers and build gradually than to follow a bunch of people and hope they follow back. If you are trying to gain particular followers, you can use their handle to get their attention. But you don’t want to repeat your content over and over.

9. Have a purpose. Your Tweet archive matters. Okay, you have low numbers. People will figure out you are new. They will look at your output. Are you a troll, posting the same thing over and over? Are you a hired hand pushing out links? Or do you have something interesting to say? People will size you up before following you. They will want to know what is your point being on Twitter.

10. Avoid buying services that promise Twitter followers in the
thousands.

11. Who are you? Fill out your profile. When I am notified I have a new follower, first thing I do is look at who they are. No picture, no profile description, chances are I ignore them.

12. Narrow your focus. That was the problem with my old Twitter account. I was all over the place. Weather, local news, work content, #TheWalkingDead, #DowntonPBS #BreakingBad, politics, #gardening, music, #Beatles. I treated Twitter like Facebook. That was a big mistake. Pick two or three topics of interest and stick to them. Your brand will grow faster if you have a niche area – focus your conversations with expertise and authority. That doesn’t mean you have to be a topic robot – just keep extracurricular subjects to a reasonable level. I may mention a favorite TV show on my main Twitter account, but I won’t live Tweet the program with 30 OMG posts!

13. Use Twitter Analytics. From my browser, I sign into my Twitter account and open another tab or window to http://www.analytics.twitter.com. There I will see my Twitter statistics – most importantly – the engagement measurements. What content resonated? I can see what Tweets fell flat, and which content people noticed and reacted to. Pictures and Vine videos do well. Read more about Twitter Analytics here.

14. Keep posts short. Leave room to be retweeted.

15. Be authentic. Start local. Engage with others. Tweet what you are passionate about.

I am not on Twitter 24-7. In my position, I wear many hats and Twitter is one of many to choose from the rack. Some day, I might earn a nice big K after my numbers, but I am not anxious for that to occur. It is best if it doesn’t happen overnight. I follow people for reasons of interest, knowledge, friendship and personal/professional development. The ultimate goal is to be followed back for the same exact reasons.