Selling Obama to Generation Youtube

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

President Obama takes a conference call coordinating the response to Hurricane Sandy.

President Obama discusses Hurricane Sandy with officials (via the White House)

Two campaign advertisements help explain why Barack Obama won re-election last month. I don’t think they tipped the balance his way but the two fringe dwelling endorsements of Obama below are ingenious, neat and witty, and they say much about how and why the Obama campaign needed the youth of America.

The videos – one with the actor Samuel L Jackson who is an indisputable cool guy in any young person’s hero/anti-hero canon and the other by the comedienne Lena Dunham who is the hip young creator of the TV series, Girls – show how ways of reaching the youth vote is now critical to any masterplan to win the White House. It’s a lesson the Republicans haven’t got yet.

Here Samuel Jackson narrates a campaign ad which borrows heavily from the story of Dr Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Romney is cast as the Grinch and Jackson galvanises an all American family beginning with the kids into working and voting for Obama because it is time to ‘wake the fuck up’. Uploaded on Youtube on Sept 27, five weeks before election day, the Samuel L Jackson video has gathered over one million, three hundred thousand views.

Meanwhile, Lena Dunham evokes voting for the first time as a metaphor for losing her virginity. Pop that cherry but do it with someone you care about, not the other guy. She name drops the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 2009 – the first bill signed into law by Obama. Uploaded on Youtube on October 25, the Lena Dunham campaign ad has had over two and a half million views.

There are 46 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 29. We know them as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. These ‘millenials’ are projected to grow from 21 per cent of the electorate to a third by 2015. That’s one big bump coming through in the demographic chart. And get this; 39 per cent of all millenials identify as non-white, making them the most ethnically diverse generation ever in American history.

Past voting trends show that these young voters favour the Democratic Party. Obama’s people know this. It’s a generational advantage they have over the Republicans. They saw what happened in 2008 and would have thought long and hard about reaching the kids in 2012 who would be voting for the first time as part of their rite of passage into adulthood.

Both campaign teams are acutely aware of how social sharing is now an indelible feature of any campaign strategy. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube and SMS messaging encourages frictionless sharing. Pitch the style and message right and it will show up in people’s news feeds all over the web. The old ways of reaching youth through radio, print and television are expensive, hard to track and probably don’t even work.

Instead, make a video, make it longer than any television ad, include profanity, share it, and track its views. Social media networks are practically a demonstration of an old adage that many hands make light work.

It is now old news that Obama won another term and in the end, it all seemed to happen without a great deal of fuss. All but one of the battleground states went to Obama and there were no cliff hanging recounts and legal challenges that kept the result in suspension. How he won has been endlessly dissected. Obama mainly won because, by and large, women, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and young people preferred him to Romney. Although the Republican advantage among white Americans increased, it was not enough to matter and Obama’s leverage with the other voter groups negated and trumped that shift.

By the numbers, the American president’s advantage among women voters held steady on 55 per cent. Among Spanish-speaking voters who are now 10 per cent of the electorate, Obama increased his support from 67 four years ago to 69 per cent in 2012. You can find this illustrated in this New York Times infographic.

And he won because the voting trends of young people favour the Democrats. Jesse Ventura, the former pro-wrestler and former governor of the state of Minnesota, gets this. He told Piers Morgan on CNN the Republicans need to change. “If you look at the demographics, the Republicans didn’t do well with young people very good and they certainly don’t do well with women so they need to look more towards positions that maybe look towards youth and more towards the opposite sex.”

While young voters still prefer Obama, it was less the case than in 2008. An economy in the doledrums, a political deadlock at a federal level and voter apathy were obstacles to a high turnout and the message of hope Obama campaigned on in 2008 was looking a little threadbare after a first term spent fighting fires inherited from the George Bush years.

Only half of young people who are eligible to vote in the United States actually vote. But Obama’s people claim that young people will turn out in higher numbers – when targeted. The Democrats also say young people are more likely to volunteer to be activists, if they are asked to. All of this makes mining the millenials such an important strategy for the Democratic Party now and in the future.

The question is whether the Republicans can effectively win this demographic group. To do so, they will need to respond to the challenge in front of them of getting more in touch with the youth of America. But we can guess one thing. The two videos above surely herald the shape of things to come in the battle to win over the Youtube generation.


Making Olympic-sized gaffes on social media

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every four years, the Olympics arrive with its outsized baggage to set up camp in a host city, while disrupting the lives of residents, changing the character of entire city precincts, and sucking in attention like only a media sinkhole can.  I should know. I lived in Sydney for and leading up to the Olympic Games in 2000. London appears no different but, interestingly, some aspects ARE different.

For each of these titanic cast-of-thousands, audience-of-millions productions, the actors change but the plot usually remains same. There are the standard stories about athletes passed over for selection, and fears over transport, security, the weather, drug cheating and empty seats.

This year, there’s a new subject that is stalking the games and will continue to shadow it in this new era of personal mobile connectivity.  The first big clue dropped during the men’s cycling road race on day one.

After numerous complaints from television viewers about confused and confusing commentary during the race, it has emerged that the volume of tweets and texts generated by mobile phone using spectators absolutely bamboozled the race organisers’ GPS information that should have accurately logged the progress of individual riders. So much so, that the International Olympic Committee issued a plea to Olympic crowds to ration their tweets and SMS messages during road racing.

Good luck with that. London has been described as the first ‘real’ social media games because of the growth of social media usage in the four years since the Beijing Olympics. The opening ceremony even went out of its way to portray British youth culture as highly connected (did you notice the touch screen props?).

Twitter says there are now more tweets about the Olympics on a single day in a week than the total number of tweets sent during the whole Beijing Olympics.

Social media and the Olympics is a growing new thing – and lessons are being learned that will apply to future games. High profile athletes are endorsing products using social media (and fallen foul of International Olympic Committee guidelines) and many are simply using it to talk directly to their home support. The majority of athletes are of a generation that has integrated social networking into their daily lives.

But for games organisers and team managers, it has become a new scenario for a potential public relations nightmare.

Has anyone warned the athletes? In a word, yes. Every team will have issued guidelines on how to use social media safely and appropriately. The last thing the team managers and communications professionals want is to go into damage control over an errant tweet or Facebook post.

It’s worth a reminder that Facebook only became public in 2006, Twitter broke out in 2007 and China’s weibo platforms only hit the mainstream in 2009.  Today, Facebook has 900 million users (compared with 100 million in 2008), Twitter has 140 million users (six million in 2008) and Sina, China’s most popular micro-blogging network, now has 300 million users.

The International Olympic Committee has issued social media usage guidelines and central to them is this directive:

The IOC encourages participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympic Games, and it is entirely acceptable for a participant or any other accredited person to do a personal posting, blog or tweet. However, any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation.

You can find the full document here. If only Hope Solo, Michael Morganella and Voula Papachristou had actually read it.

Morganella is the most recent casualty. In a fit of sour grapes after his team lost to South Korea, he tweeted the Koreans were “mentally handicapped retards”. Don’t bother looking for his Twitter account – it’s no longer available and he’s no longer available for his team’s next game.

Solo, the goalkeeping star of the American women’s football team, used Twitter to pick a public fight with a former United States international player turned commentator, Brandi Chastain, over what she called unfair criticism of the team. It’s become a distraction for her teammates because she’s become the story, not the team.

Papachristou, a Greek triple jumper, found herself going home before the games began for tweeting “with so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food”. In country where immigration has become a sensitive political issue and non-Greek minorities are under attack from far right groups, her ‘joke’ got her expelled.

Meanwhile, Australian swimmers, Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk, won’t be joining their teammates for the end of games festivities. They’ll be going home after their events – their penalty for posting photos on Facebook of themselves  posing with guns in an American gun shop.

Journalists are also not immune to social media blowback, as happened to Guy Adams, a journalist at The Independent, when he took a tilt at the official American Olympics network, NBC, over its coverage.

All of this simply heightens the need for athletes and anyone involved with the Olympics to take a 360 view of what they intend to post on social media. They must realise their posts can be seen by everyone and anyone. But as we know, common sense can only be learned and not necessarily taught.

To quote George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Like four yearly controversies over empty seats, drug cheats, transport and security, social media is now also an embedded fixture at the Olympics. It is also a guaranteed prospect to win Olympic gold for online gaffes.

Facebook faces growing Timeline user backlash

February 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

Going by the reaction to my reaction to Facebook’s new Timeline format, there’s little love for the change that will become mandatory for all Facebook users from February 4.

While the new redesign allows users to easily find content posted months and years ago, it looks cluttered and lacks the clarity of the single column look that is being phased out. But what has really annoyed many users is being presented with a fait accompli. Facebook is telling its 800 million users to like it or lump it.

When I posted my status as “I didn’t want Timeline, it is horrible” (if you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t exactly an objective post), 13 friends liked the comment and seven left comments deploring the change. There were only two dissenters. Here’s a flavour of the comments.

Noooooooooooooooooo. Facebook is forcing me to have Timeline. It goes live on Feb 4. This is a sad day. Timeline sucks.

I haven’t been on Facebook for a while and I’ve found it’s changed a lot. I like Timeline, it makes sense and it’s easy to trace things back.

Interestingly, when Time magazine technology writer Keith Wagstaff wrote about the beta version of Facebook in November, he noted:

A Facebook spokesperson assured me that it will be opt-in, meaning you won’t just wake up one day and find your profile transformed.

That’s clearly not the case today. While Wagstaff reviewed Timeline favourably, he did warn:

Post-Timeline, profiles will become all-you-can-view buffets for casual voyeurs. Load someone’s Timeline and you’ll see months of status updates, photos and more displayed chronologically. Expand the collapsed years below and you’ll be able to trace someone’s history on Facebook all the way down to his or her birth.

His advice is to:

Get used to clicking “Hide from Timeline.” You access it through the “Edit or Remove” pencil icon that pops up whenever you hover your mouse over the top right corner of any post.

This TechCrunch article is a comprehensive guide with screen grabs on how to administer your Timeline profile to protect your privacy on posts that were lost in the mazy deep of your relatively recent social past (recent because it is easy to forget that Facebook has only been going since 2004)  but now easily within reach of the surface.

This PC World article is also informative. It makes the observation that deleting and hiding posts that may now prove embarrassing or too personal will be a time consuming job. Remember that you may also need to consider all the comments that you have posted on other people’s profiles. These cannot be hidden but they can be deleted.

There is also a go nuclear solution.

If you have a ton of posts from past years that you don’t want people to see, you may want to just consider getting rid of your Facebook account and starting from scratch.

Timeline has been described as a virtual This Is Your Life. The trouble is not everyone wants it. This very recent Mashable poll shows that 79 percent of 1500 respondents say they wish it were optional.

The backlash is clearly evident on the web. I don’t like Timeline and it’s encouraging to see that there are many others who feel the same way. Facebook’s unlovable Timeline has arrived and it isn’t optional. While I might not nuke my Facebook profile, I’m already using it far less often than I used to. But let’s start a conversation. What do you think of Timeline?

New journalism means knowing your social media

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a debate in journalism training about shorthand. Is this a skill that is still relevant to new journalists joining the news media? The reality is that shorthand is headed for extinction unless there’s some major industry intervention. But, while old school editors and journalism tutors may deplore the death of shorthand, the rest of the industry is much too preoccupied with survival in a Force 10 digital storm.

And let’s face it, shorthand will not be missed because technology offers so many alternatives that are proving to be as good as if not better. There are miniaturised video and audio recorders and ubiquitous smart phones that can record virtually anything. An iPad application called SoundNote records interviews as you type. Even badly type written notes can guide you to the points in an interview that you might need to transcribe for a quote.

While debate rages over whether technology improves journalism, the fallout over the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK shows how technology also enables where journalistic ethics fail.

One guarantee is the way journalists tell their stories has to change under the crushing weight of technological innovation. The future of news content is destined to be immersive, interactive and multi-faceted.

It follows that multi-media versatility is going to be an essential part of a journalist’s skill set and we are starting to see journalism schools increasingly incorporating this dimension into their curricula.

From a social media perspective, we’re seeing more media organisations embracing ways to share their content across the social web. But it’s also a safe observation to make that many journalists and media organisations are uncomfortable or ambivalent about using social media platforms.  You could say many journalists still profoundly misunderstand the web and are baffled why a collaborative, amateur built resource like Wikipedia works!

But those that do understand how the social web works see opportunity and recognise the game changing nature of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as an increasingly important information ecosystem existing within the digital revolution.

For the journalists that do get the mobile/social/digital shift – and even those that are watching on the side-lines – I recommend two brilliant resources that help media professionals target and locate content on Twitter and Facebook as part of the process of news gathering.

Twitter for Newsrooms is an important starting point for journalists who are new to Twitter and those who think they know it all. There are tips on using Twitter’s advanced search form to get narrow and defined results to help with any story. It is so useful for scanning breaking content when the Twitter stream is a flood of spontaneity that is being throttled on your Tweetdeck.

For finding older tweets, there’s Topsy which allows journalists to go back in time to view Twitter traffic in a given time frame.  Also incredibly useful is information on how to link directly to an individual tweet. If you’ve had sleepless nights trying to figure how this is done, here’s how.

There are also a number of Twitter partners that provide ways for news organisation to visualise or curate Twitter data about particular news stories – a terrific way to demonstrate the impact of a story on Twitter and by extension on internet traffic. I started with Mass Relevance, a tweet curatorial service, and there are many others out there.

Facebook searches are another way to find public content. Searches can be carried out in group, page, event or people categories and also in posts by people, friends and groups. People’s privacy settings determine what is in the public domain and is means Facebook lacks the capability to really amplify content the way Twitter does. But Facebook users can message others even if they are not friends and this is a useful information circuit breaker.

Twitter and Facebook searches and techniques are becoming an essential part of a journalist’s skillset. Journalists will also need to pay attention to emerging social media platforms like Google+ and there are other platforms like Quora and HARO (which is an acronym for Help A Reporter Out) that help journalists find answers from potential sources. I have used HARO and I can see its value (although it can be hit or miss) as a regular way to source opinions or comment on issues from a global pool of social web savvy respondents.

Every journalist needs to understand that Twitter is not a passing fad and Facebook is not just a way of talking privately among your friends. The accumulated online babble might be deafening but by skilful manipulation of search criteria, social media platforms are essential, information-rich resources. Journalism might be losing the struggle to keep shorthand but the profession has no choice but to join the rest of us on the social media street.

Can social media save the news media?

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The news media faces huge challenges ahead. Social media has and will continue to change the way we find and consume news, and the news industry – which has proved less than nimble so far – needs to prepare or it risks becoming increasingly unprofitable.

Publishers are seeing an increasing number of us receiving our news through social media platforms. The Nieman Journalism Lab for big picture, crystal ball gazing on the future of journalism says 5-15 per cent of traffic to news websites is coming from social media referrals. This might not be a big percentage now but as more people take to social networks, the trend is on the way up. One US survey showed, 44 per cent of news readers use social networks to share news and information.

The buzz phrase for harnessing the power of social media to bring in punters is social media optimisation. It describes how the news media can adopt strategies to optimise the probability of their content being distributed through social media networks.

It stands to reason that news organisations need to harness this human impulse to share interesting stuff by making it easier for their content to be spread by social media networks. One way to prosper is to lead a reader or viewer’s attention from one story to another. Many news websites are very effective at doing this and other less so. But the trend does represent, as Ken Doctor of Newsonomics puts it, “the social web is the new homepage”.

While many news websites have Facebook and Twitter tabs on webpages to make sharing easy, it’s fair to say traditional news organisations have been patchy in coming to terms with the impact of the internet and how news consumption patterns and habits are changing. More and more news stories we are interested in find us through our social media filters and we also like to participate, to discuss the news online and to share it among our peers.

To increase audiences, news organisations and journalists need to learn to engage with them. Being open to feedback can improve the customer’s experience and grow loyalty for the news brand. One idea is for news organisations to encourage their journalists to use their social networks to bring more readers or viewers to a story and make it easy for them to share it.

Journalists also need training in social media. News rooms need to counter any curmudgeonly resistance by old school thinking because they now need staff adept at using social media to increase the organisation’s ability to engage and promote its news product.

News organisations also have to keep up with future developments. For example, many of us will soon be able to live stream news events from our mobile phones. We can already do it on a peer to peer basis but news from YouTube that it will be rolling out YouTube Live means we are so close to realising live streaming citizen journalism onto open internet platforms that can be viewed by anyone with reasonable access to the internet. How will the traditional news media cope?

In the last decade, we’ve been witnessing a slowly unfolding crash between the news industry and the internet. Now social media has added a high speed element. There are casualties especially in the US where dozens of newspapers have closed and hundreds of journalists have been made unemployed. But if your business is based on news, wouldn’t it be foolish to ignore or minimise an increasing part of the connected and literate world that is using social media to share the news?

Let us know your thoughts below. How do you get the news? Are Twitter, YouTube and Facebook increasingly doing it for you? What media organisations use social media effectively and how are they doing it?

And if you have bright ideas on how news organisations can generate more revenue from giving their news content away for free on the internet, I’m sure they would like to hear from you!

The latest Christchurch earthquake told on social media

February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

A major earthquake has again struck Christchurch and this time to even more devastating effect. Again Twitter showed its value as the fastest news platform as information spread spontaneously through the Twitersphere along with images and video of the destruction.

The hashtag most used was #eqnz following on from the September earthquake that caused widespread devastation while #chch was also employed to aggregate quake tweets.

Twitpics were published in minutes. Dyedredlaura posted these images of damage and within an hour they had received thousands of views.

[Pictures by @dyedredlaura]


This one of dramatic damage to Christchurch cathedral received over 14,000 views in under an hour and subsequent information suggested that people remained trapped inside.

[Picture by @tesswoolcock]

This early video also of a rockfall flattening a building and parked cars was also posted by ypud within minutes of the initial shock.

Photos and videos were quickly picked up by the news media and republished on their websites.

Tweets also began to be circulated among the Twitter community requesting information about the safety of particular individuals, families and schools. Warnings from Civil Defence and telco companies also circulated advising worried relatives and friends to send text messages or make short calls to prevent the phone system from becoming overloaded.

By and large, the news media were quicker off the mark for this earthquake because unlike the September quake that struck before 5am on a Saturday morning, this week’s big quake occurred during lunchtime during a weekday.

News organizations were able to mobilize their reporting resources quickly using their local reporters. This was essential as Christchurch Airport had been closed by the quake and flights diverted away.

TV3, stung by criticism over its decision not to roll live coverage of the earlier quake on the same day while TVNZ did, this time did so. Both TVNZ and TV3 began live streaming from the earthquake zone on their websites. Both were effective but a bit slow to work because of understandably high user demand.

Live updates were also available on most of the main New Zealand news websites within the hour.The New Zealand Herald began theirs at 1pm which is good work considering the quake struck at 12.51pm.

Stuff website’s first entry was at 1.33pm. But a mitigating factor could have been technical issues affecting the quake-hit news room of The Press which is right next to The Square. This SOS did go out on Twitter: “All hands on deck in newsroom but we’re battling with huge tech issues. @PressNewsroom damaged, trying to update #eqnz”

Scrolling down to the beginning, TVNZ appears to have logged in its live updates that the quake struck at 12.51. It has also been running a live Twitter feed using #eqnz on its news frontpage.

Disappointingly, Radio New Zealand’s website does not appear to have the capability for publishing images or video, instead focusing on old school broadcasting, although it does utilise a live audio stream.

News and the social media revolution

January 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

We live in revolutionary times. Last month a 17-year-old Melbourne girl had the Australian news media scrambling to follow her on Twitter and Facebook after she posted photos of naked Australian Rules players online. Meanwhile a hashtag war broke out between Indonesian and Malaysian Twitter users over a football match, a story duly reported by the Jakarta Globe.

Both stories became news but their genesis happened on social media platforms. While the news media is finding more stories on social media, many of the people running news organisations have very contradictory and conflicting views on how to make sense of the social media revolution and take advantage of it.

Yes, social media is an increasingly rich source for stories and useful for broadcasting headlines and links but tips and information gleaned through eavesdropping on social media are quite rightly viewed with skepticism in newsrooms. Verifying the accuracy or veracity of information is after all a central tenet of journalism.

However there are very good arguments why the news media need to take social media much more seriously than they currently do.

The first reason has been apparent since the spread of the internet began to wreak havoc with the mainstream media’s business models and traditional revenue streams. The writing is on the Facebook wall so to speak as this pithy little video shows.

Most have to give away their news content for free online and compete fiercely for online advertising revenue. The internet has created a flat playing field for news in which it doesn’t matter if you are a broadcaster or a member of the print media.

The advent of social media is a second sucker-punch for the mainstream media. Consumers can now make up their own minds as to how they obtain their news. Social media filters and content-sharing give us alternative ways of finding the news or, indeed, having it find us.

There is already mounting evidence that paywalls and micropayments won’t work while offering tablet and mobile applications show many media organisations are trying to keep up with the wave. Some get it completely wrong. You could say the landscape has changed but too many are still using the old maps. In order to survive, news companies need to create new revenue streams outside their current news and content models. It surprises me that the mainstream media is not attempting to copy the Groupon model of ‘deal of the day’. Also, why not look into providing cool new game apps for mobile phones and tablets? Its Rugby World Cup year so why not commission and market rugby game apps? Imagine emulating this kind of success. Why not use social media to push its deals, services and products? And why not allow people to post your most popular videos on YouTube or Vimeo? It’s a tribute to your newsgathering if so many people want to watch it.

The mainstream media also appear genuinely uncomfortable with the conversation aspect of social media. We as news consumers can now instantly discuss and challenge coverage (or lack thereof). There are inherent risks in engaging with the public in this way but if managed carefully and resourced adequately, it could enhance the reputation of media companies for engaging with the communities they purport to serve.

Social media also challenges the standard maintream news narrative. One of the characteristics of news is that it is highly repetitive. Most news stories are highly predictable, dutifully reporting the traditional positive/negative dichotomy of an issue. But life is rarely that simple and one of the best qualities of social media is that it provides for a richer and more nuanced diversity of voices than are covered in the news media. It is encouraging to see more and more journalists using social networking tools for crowdsourcing information and engaging with their public. But when will their editors sanction the conversation principle?

Social media and Web 2.0’s user-generated content also strikes at the very heart of the traditional concept of a ‘journalist’. With the available technology, anyone can be a reporter although the theory and practice is that it still takes a journalist to be the interpreter of eyewitness and second-hand information posted online in the event of a news event. A respected news brand gives credibility to the information.

But the boundaries of journalism are being shaken because there are many eminently qualified and talented people who are carrying out excellent journalism as commentators and bloggers but who may not have necessarily been to journalism school or work in a news room. Many have big readerships and followings because they use social media cleverly and effectively and because they are not restricted to story telling that conforms to a traditional news narrative.

I contend that there’s never been a better time to be a young and intrepid journalist who can keep his or her overheads low, who is mobile and connected, and who is skilled in multimedia forms of story-telling. Journalism really is your world for the making because you can build your own freelance brand on the web, independent of a news organisation.

As media companies find their traditional business models failing them, they are approaching a crisis point. It doesn’t matter how excellent your journalism is because if consumers desert you and advertisers are not willing to pay you, you’re doomed. And if news organisations want to return to the halcyon days of influence before the internet came along, they really have to become more willing to experiment, innovate and engage.

As consumers, the way we get our news is changing and it is up to news organisations to adapt to remain profitable. This isn’t about how social media can accommodate journalism but rather how journalism needs to reach out to its public using social media to stay relevant.

The revolution is here. The internet and social media are the angry mob that have changed the paradigm. Undone by complacency and a failure to adapt quickly, the casualties are starting to mount and the aristocracy is fearful. And so they should be if they want to keep their heads and their palaces.

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