Communication 2.0: The Age of Social Media

~ A guest blog by Isaac Katz
College of Communication student and Lambda Pi Eta member
~

Since the dawn of the printing press, communication as we know it has gone through different eras. In the mid-1400’s, it was that press which brought messages to the rich, and later, newspaper taught the poor to read. In 1860, the Pony Express increased the speed by which messages would be received from long distances, and in later years, the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television were invented, which brought us into the age of broadcast media.

Then, something incredible happened. In 1965, the first long-distance network of computers was created by Larry G. Roberts, giving birth a year later to what we know as the Internet. Since then, the Internet has come a long way, from being used exclusively by the military for missile-silo communication to being used by an estimated 6,845,609,960 e-mailers, bloggers, journalists, marketers, YouTubers, Facebookers, and MySpacers. We now live in the throes of the digital age. The Internet is a powerful tool that, like any other medium, has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at the advantages.

The Internet’s biggest advantage is its interactivity. Printed media has selective audiences that may read an article for a few minutes, maybe even a few hours. Television may interest a watcher because they can select the content, see it and hear it. The Internet, however; captivates the user by forcing them to physically interact with the media, using audio and visual tools, and can focuses on the very smallest fragment of a target audience. This last factor gives the Internet the most locking-power of any medium, and harnessing that power is the goal of communications professionals worldwide.

What is Social Media? Social Media is the umbrella-term given to the vast array of portal websites on the Internet today. An Internet portal is a one-stop shop for the end-user’s communication needs. Examples are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, QQ, Gmail, and Internet forums. What these platforms all have in common is their ability for sending and receiving messages instantly with people anywhere that have access to the Internet. Social media sites should all have a general broadcast message outlet (Facebook’s “Wall”), a private-messaging service (MySpace Mail), and network-building capabilities (forum “friends lists”).

Now comes the message crafting. Let’s use Facebook for this example because it’s the most widely-used social media in the USA. Depending on your audience, the message you send will vary. As in the case of any well-crafted message, researching the audience as a preliminary step is key and ever-so-easy because of access to consumer preferences listed in many users’ profiles. Taking a look at your audience’s group memberships, likes, favorite music, and stylistic nuances in the users’ own messages points you in the direction of what to say and how to convey it in an understandable manner.

What you say and how you say it also is a direct reflection of the organization or brand you represent. This will make or break you as a successful communicator. Think as if you are working for a company running a coupon promotion campaign. Your coupon reads, “Buy one regularly-priced item, get another 50% off!” What are you getting another of for 50 percent off? Another one of the same item? Another regularly priced item? Or are you eligible for any item at 50 percent off? This type of unclear message constantly aggravates customers when they think they’re getting a better deal than what the store will honor.

How you say your message also presents a difficult problem at times. Subtle nuances of the modern English language don’t always translate to printed/visual text. “I can’t stand this anymore!” means something totally different than, “I can’t stand this anymore lol!” While seemingly similar in literal meaning, the implied meaning of the first one may entail suicide, while the latter conveys humor or sarcasm. Without going too far into a lesson on bringing text to life and giving it emotion (which I’m still working on as a student at Rowan), it’s a good starting point to think about all sides of how your message may be perceived. That brings us back to your audience. Different audiences will perceive your message differently, and they will perceive it differently because of the source that’s sending it, too, which ties us back into why proper brand/organization/personal representation is key for successful communicating.

Another key point that I’ll touch on briefly is creating interactivity, the crux of social media. Interactivity drives traffic, which creates potential for sales, which can increase your company’s bottom line: to make money.  Even if you aren’t a PR professional, you may eventually be called upon to be part of an organization’s social media campaign. Casting a message that people are generally not interested in, something that has nothing to do with them and is self-centric rather than audience-centric turns off your audience. How many times have you sat at a restaurant with a date who talks about themselves and doesn’t include you in the conversation? Makes you want to leave the restaurant and never call that person again, doesn’t it? The same goes for crafting messages to Internet-based audiences, especially because the noise potential on the Internet is much higher than other media. Pop-up ads, other people’s posts, and links to other sites all pose threats to the clarity and penetration of your message. In order for you to keep people interested, get them involved! Make a photo contest and have people post photos of your product in use, ask them questions that they’ll enjoy answering, like “What’s at the top of your wish-list for this holiday season?” or post news that is news-worthy to them. If your audience is comprised of girls ages 10-14 (or sometimes even their mothers), anything about Justin Beiber should immediately grab their attention.

Successful communication on the web is not an easy task. In order to master it, practice makes perfect, but exposure helps immensely. The web is such a huge medium with users from all corners of the globe, and to know them means knowing how to talk to them. Surf websites that you wouldn’t normally go on. Venture outside Facebook and see the political news on MSNBC.com or CNN.com. Get off of Perez Hilton’s blog and check out what’s going on in one of the less-popular video-game forums. Become cultured and you will gain an advantage over magic-bullet communicators. You will know your audience and know how to communicate to them. They will know you and they will be receptive of your messages. A mutually beneficial relationship will be formed.

Twitter and Organizational Communication

~ A Guest Blog by Stephanie Lutz
College of Communication student and member of Lambda Pi Eta ~

Social Media has become a way of life for most of mainstream society which were once limited to “extreme” users are now a daily activity for many individuals. The explosion of something on the Internet is rapid and hectic, spreading like a disease, or “virally”. The process of social media is awe inspiring and the future of this tool and way of life is just beginning. Five years ago, social media was not what it is today; imagine what it will look like in another five years.

One of the current most talked about social media technologies is Twitter. Twitter is a simple concept, quick short bursts of a thought only 140 characters long (including spaces). Though Twitter may have begun as a simple way for users to “tweet” their thoughts, it has changed into a mechanim for new uses including cause platforms, business ventures, promotion, news, and other personal gains for the user. Celebrities use twitter constantly to promote themselves and gain new fans. Companies and corporations use Twitter for news and enticements about their company, and for creating brand imagery with tweets.

Major corporations use Twitter as their branding puppet. The newest trend in Twitter evolution is the sponsored or promoted “tweets”. This is when a user is looking for tweets about a topic they have a few at the top that are paid advertisements. In Social Networks that matter, it is said that people of academic, business and political backgrounds all use social networking as opportunities. They make the propagation of ideas. The links between the users are not necessarily proving that they interact, and the hidden social network is where the viral spread of ideas or trends starts (Huberman et al.). Companies are creating Twitter accounts to generate buzz about their products or services. Travel companies, such as airlines and hotels use Twitter to promote and maintain their brand and image. The hotels in Las Vegas use tweets to promote their upcoming events and guest stars. Car companies start conversations on Twitter, about their cars to enthusiasts. Marvel, the comic company, talks directly to fans about news of their favorite characters. Other big business corporations, like the airline JetBlue and media provider Comcast, deal with issues customers are having around the country (Van Grove). This process is better than advertising, companies are talking directly to the customers they are trying to reach. Users follow only the brands and companies that they use, like, or are interested in, therefore when businesses tweet they are listening (or reading) with eager attention. It is to be imagined that this form of promotion and advertising is going to go much further in the future.

The simple idea of posting a tweet, a nonsensical thought or idea in 140 characters or less, has evolved and changed so many ways. Companies and corporations are using Twitter to talk directly to their target consumer. It is a new way of advertising that is highly effective in theory. Other brands are using Twitter to garner brand image, buzz, and even help customers with problems. I feel that the changes in the idea of social networking and microblogging, such as Twitter, are only in the infancy stages. The future is going to be more connected, smarter and the Internet is hopefully going to further streamline the mass clutter it has garnered.

Works referenced:

Huberman, B., Romero, D., Wu, F. (2008). “Social Networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope” Cornell University. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0812/0812.1045v1.pdf

Poulter, S. (2010). “Twitter finally allows ads-in the form of ‘promoted tweets’ at the top of search lists.” MailOnline Science & Tech Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1265609/Twitter-launches-paid-advert-tweets-promotes-search-lists.html

Van Grove, J. (2009). “40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them.” Mashable/Business. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2009/01/21/best-twitter-brands/

Erich Maria Remarque Bio-Pic Screening

On Thursday, November 18, the Department of Radio/TV/Film, the College of Communication, and the International Center sponsored the first U.S. screening of a film documentary of the life of writer Erich Maria Remarque.  The film, made for German television and the brainchild of Dr. Wolfgang Becker, documents the early years of Remarque’s life (1898-1970) from the time that he was drafted into the military, through the release of All Quiet on the Western Front, and up to the time that Remarque left Germany in the face of Nazi party protests regarding the book’s anti-war sentiments.  Though the book was  burned in Germany in the early 1930s, it has become part of our public understanding of World War I, being translated into over 50 languages and inspiring a Hollywood film that won and Academy Award for Best Picture.

Prior to the screening of the film, Dr. Becker spoke to the audience about the impetus for the film, detailing how the idea was created, the selection of producer and screenwriter (two of his former students) and actors, and the filming which occurred in Osnabrueck, Germany.   Following the screening, which held the audience of faculty, students, and staff completely mesmerized, Dr. Becker took additional questions from the audience regarding both Remarque’s life and the making of the film.

The screening and the ensuing reception were held, in part, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Student/Faculty Exchange Program between Rowan University and the University of Osnabrueck. This program, created by Dr. Becker and Dr. Richard Grupenhoff (RTF) was the first of its kind at Rowan and has resulted in more than 100 students traveling from one country to the other for study, as well as faculty exchanges for guest lecturing and work with students.

The film was truly impressive and interesting, and there is a hope that it will be released on US television in upcoming months.  Keep an eye out for it, because it’s definitely worth viewing.

LBA