Social Media for News Sites: J-Lab learning module, live chat

Recently I helped co-author a new learning module from the Knight Citizen News Network: Likes & Tweets: Leveraging Social Media for News Sites. It’s a pretty detailed resource, intended primarily for online local news startups — but the lessons there could be applied by local news orgs in legacy media, as well as anyone trying to connect with a community online.

I only played a small role in this project — the vast majority of the work was done by Susan Mernit and Kwan Booth – my Oakland Local cofounders and partners in the House of Local media consulting group.

Yesterday, Susan, Kwan & I participated in a one-hour live chat hosted by J-Lab about this learning module. You can replay the complete transcript. We got really great interaction on this. J-Lab told us that this live chat attracted far more readers and participants than its other live chats. It was fun, and I’m glad it was a success!

Massive Twitter research project yields insights on influence

My latest CNN post is actually not about mobile, for a change. It’s about the findings from a huge Twitter analysis done by an international research team.

See: How to gain influence on Twitter? Focus

Get this: They got Twitter to release to them a dataset of tweets from nearly 55 million accounts that were in use as of August 2009. That’s nearly 1.7 billion tweets, interconnected by almost 1.9 billion “social links” — which I think means @replies or retweets.

From this, they figured out some things about how influence works on Twitter. Basically, if you’re not already a celebrity or a major news organization or aggregator, then the key to gaining influence through Twitter is to focus on one or a couple of topics.

Also, the report has a good discussion of why popularity does not necessarily equal influence, especially on Twitter.

The research team is releasing its anonymized dataset. I bet other people will have a lot of fun running other analyses of this dataset.

Free Kindles, local mobile news, and pissed off fanboys: My recent CNN.com Tech mobile stories

It’s been a very busy month and a half for me. I spent a week in Los Angeles as a featured presenter for the Mobile News Week at the journalism school there, and now I’m finishing preparations to travel to two other journalism schools next week for the Knight Digital Media Center’s Mobile Symposium. So I haven’t been letting Contentious.com readers know what I’ve been writing elsewhere.

But I’ve been logging a lot of cool mobile stuff for CNN.com Tech. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been covering there…

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More break-the-story-box news tools: Andy Carvin, Twitter, and Egypt

Form follows function — which is why when traditional journalism tries to shoehorn fast-breaking, multidirectional events that unfold via social media into traditional narrative stories, it often flattens (and sometimes skews) the experience.

This is why I like tools that allow reporters and others to break “story box” by creating real-time collages that combine original reporting and commentary with curated contributions from social media and elsewhere.

The past month, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin has been doing this via Twitter — first for the Tunisia uprising, and now with the Egyptian revolution. Today Berkman Center research Ethan Zuckerman published an excellent interview with Carvin exploring why he’s been posting an average of 400 tweets daily for the last month, and what others can learn from his efforts.

I summarized some highlights from this interview that might especially interest news professionals over at the Knight Digital Media Center site.

See: How NPR’s Andy Carvin is using Twitter to tell Egypt’s story

Mobile/social media and politics: Why news organizations should care

Recently the Pew Internet and American Life project published two reports about how Americans are using new digital communication tools to learn about, discuss, and engage in politics — particularly around the Nov. 2010 elections.

I wrote two posts for the Knight Digital Media Center at USC explaining how news organizations can use this information to create more effective ways to engage and grow the audiences for their political coverage — and why they shouldn’t wait for the next election season to do this:

How mobile devices and social media changed Tunisia

WeMedia writes:

Before we get all Twittered about the events in Tunisia, let’s put the Jasmine Revolution in perspective. After decades of repression and economic turmoil, a citizen’s act of defiance sparked a people’s uprising that ousted an oppressive regime. Citizens demonstrated. Citizens were killed. Citizens changed their government. Let’s not trivialize them as gadgets or hashtags.

What is revealing about this revolution is the way in which citizens discovered it, how they informed one another, and how they mobilized around it. They used their mobile phones, now ubiquitous in North Africa, to communicate via text messaging and Twitter.

…Only Al Jazeera, the Arab-language news network based in Qatar, seemed to recognize the growing tempest in Tunisia and the implications for the rest of the Arab world. By reading the blogs, following the tweets and using its mobile phones, Al Jazeera found signs of political ferment both in Africa and in the Islamic world fed by economic distress, political repression, and young people with the tools — including mobile phones and Internet — to make changes.

“I am certain its (the revolution’s) success is entirely correlated to the ubiquity of the mobile phone and the Internet,” blogged Aly-Khan Saatchu, an investments banker based in Nairobi.

See: The revolution within the revolution: How mobile devices and social media changed Tunisia

Facebook “likes” on your pages? Don’t count on them.

If your site includes Facebook “like” buttons to encourage people to share your content, be careful about how you use those numbers — or how seriously you take them.

Clint Watson writes in  Facebook Like Button Count Inaccuracies:

The Facebook “like” buttons you see embedded on websites incorrectly report the number of “people” who “like” something. Specifically, the button can inflate the displayed count of people.  While this is fine when all you want to do is track some general level of “engagement” with a particular item, it was not accurate for the use I needed – counting each “like” as a vote in our BoldBrush Online painting competition.

What I needed is a way to get the number of actual people who “like” something.  And there is a way to retreive that information from Facebook, but it is often a different number from what is shown on the “like” button itself.

If you are a geek – here’s the bottom line of this post:

If you’re using the Facebook “Like” Button Social Plugin and you need an accurate count of the actual number of people who have clicked the “like” button, you can’t rely on the number reported by the button itself.  You need to retrieve your URL’s “fan count” number via Facebook’s Open Graph API.

Hat tip to Zach Seward for bringing this to my attention.

Why news orgs and journos should engage online with groups & organizations

On the Knight Digital Media Center USC site, I just posted a short item about a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:  Internet breeds engagement, not isolation, says Pew

At the end, I noted:

Given that groups often have considerable reach and influence, it makes sense for news organizations to actively engage local or relevant groups, especially via social media.

The online activities of groups are now a key channel for news, information, communication, and engagement for most Americans. It makes sense to build bridges with these channels in order to reach wider audiences and listen more effectively to community issues and concerns.

Which is yet another reason for the news business to get over its traditional stance of aloofness/separation from the community under the fig leaf of objectivity.

Would you quit Twitter? Reflections on personal media choices

Wow. If You Think Quitting Booze Freaks People Out, Wait ‘Til You Quit Twitter.

Very interesting insights from TechCrunch’s Paul Carr.

I think there is much to be said for periodically cutting back on (or eliminating) anything that feels absolutely essential or habitual to you, to gauge how much you really need it.

In the last year I asked myself, “Do I need a house?” Nope. I’d like to have a house again, but I can be happy without one.

Several years ago I wondered, “Do I need a car?” Nope — and I’m much happier without one. Same with printed books: “Do I need several crammed bookcases around to reassure me that I’m smart or that I won’t get bored?” Again, no — I’m far happier with my Kindle and with being able to make better use of limited space.

I doubt that I’d ever entirely quit using social media because in my case it has vastly improved my life in many ways. But in the last couple of months I’ve cut back on it quite a lot — some days I post a lot, but others I don’t post at all (and a post-free day NEVER used to happen to me). I feel less compulsive about it.

However, I have definitely increased my use of two kinds of social media tools in recent months: social bookmarking tools and Facebook… Continue reading