When it comes to politics, how social are social media users?

The full potential of social media is achieved when users not only effectively disseminate messages to their followers, but also inspire their followers to share messages within their networks. The presidential campaigns of 2012 are tapping into this power by creating presences on Facebook and Twitter, building networks of friends and followers, and distributing content that can be passed along from these friends and followers into their extensive networks.

I conducted a small study to explore social media behavior of voters, specifically to understand whether voters were following the candidates, sharing campaign content, and talking about the campaign online. Furthermore, I was interested in attitudes toward political discussion and sharing that occurs in social networks and attitudes that might potentially hinder the sharing process. I used my own networks on Twitter and Facebook to survey 124 respondents between July 17 and August 19, 2012. The sample can be described in the following way: it had more women (74%) than men (26%); the majority were Floridians (62%); the sample was almost evenly distributed into three age groups of 18-24 (32%), 25-34 (29%), and 35-44 (28%); and the highest percentage of respondents were Democrats (43%), followed by Republicans (30%) and Independents (16%). Almost 93% said they were registered to vote, and 90% said they planned to vote. Slightly more than 82% said they had already decided the candidate they would support in the election.

Slightly more than 28% of respondents follow a candidate on Facebook and the same percentage follow a candidate on Twitter. Almost 90% of respondents have noticed political discussion on Facebook. When it comes to their own profiles, slightly more than 26% have shared political content that was created by a campaign or someone else, such as a photo, video, or graphic. More than 33% have posted a status update about the 2012 election or a candidate on Facebook and slightly more than 16% have tweeted about the election or a candidate. Almost 45% have commented or liked a friend’s Facebook post about the election or a candidate.

A high percentage of respondents (46.4%) either strongly or somewhat agreed that the political information they have seen on social media sites has been helpful in learning about the candidates and their views. Many respondents (43.9%) either strongly or somewhat agreed they have
been disappointed to learn through social media sites that certain friends do not support a candidate they support. Almost 42% either strongly or somewhat agreed that they don’t like to see posts from friends about a candidate they don’t support.

A lower percentage (30.1%) either strongly or somewhat agreed that they would worry what people would think of them if they posted on social media sites about a candidate their friends don’t support. Only 27% either strongly or somewhat agreed that they like to share political views on Facebook, even though 66% either strongly or somewhat disagreed that social media is not a place for political discussion.

The data revealed some interesting trends when answers from the 37 Republican and 52 Democrat respondents were compared (see chart).

Overall, Democrats were more active than Republicans in following and posting about candidates and the election. They were also more concerned with finding out a friend supported another candidate and what friends would think if they posted about a candidate their friends did not support. Finally, there were differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the usefulness of the information they see on social media sites about the election, with more Democrats than Republicans noticing useful information.

The presidential campaigns of 2012 have embraced social media and are leveraging its power to attempt to turn followers into voters. People need to feel comfortable with sharing political content and opinions in social media for it to reach its full potential for presidential campaigns. These data show high recognition and perceived usefulness of political discussion and content on social media sites with a lower, yet still encouraging, prevalence of following candidates and commenting, liking, and posting about candidates and the election. Some voters, particularly Democrats, have been disappointed by the postings of others and may hold back because they worry about the opinions of others.

Social media is a new phenomenon in politics, but its a powerful new medium fraught with pitfalls. It’s clearly changing the way a new generation shares political ideas, and it’s important for researchers to chart how these changes alter how we relate to each other in real life.

August 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment

Facebook for Pre-Teens?

I did an interview for WTSP Channel 10 News today where I spoke on all the reasons that a child under the age of 13 should not be on Facebook. Last year, approximately 7.5 million users were estimated to be under the minimum age of 13. First of all, the Child Online Privacy Protection Act requires companies like Facebook that collect private information about people to have parental approval if that person is under 13. So Facebook just knocks off anyone who tries to put in a birthday making them younger than 13. (It’s easy to lie about that birthday and Facebook will even let the child change his/her year of birth down the road when the kid turns 13.) I talked about the inappropriateness of the conversations and photos for the eyes of young Facebook users. Although the parent may be discreet because they know their child is on Facebook, what about that cousin who is in college or the wild single aunt? Cyberbullying can occur as well, and children can also be the target of scammers or child molesters. Children may also not know what information is appropriate to post on social networks. An embarrassing photo, for example, may never go away online. In addition, who know what Facebook is doing with all that information collected about these young users? This vulnerable population could be targeted with advertising based on their interests, creating problems for parents who are then expected to buy, buy, buy for their kids. Finally, as a parent, you are not setting a good example if you help your child lie about their age (and many parents do this because they help the child set up the account.)

During this interview, my 11-year-old son happened to be with me. He tagged along because he is already out of school for the summer. They asked him whether he had a Facebook account to which he replied, “Off the record, yes.” But the reporter wanted to know more. As a mom, why would I let an 11-year-old have a Facebook account? I allowed them to take some B-roll of my son looking at an iPhone and this footage and mention of him may very well get him knocked off Facebook, but I don’t think he would really care. He is on there because he broke me down after hearing so much about Facebook. He also really wanted to play Farmville and Fishville. At first, all his privacy controls were set to “no one.” No one could friend him, search him, etc. I’ve loosened up a little so everything now says “only friends.” He has a total of 22 friends, a list I check occasionally. Eighteen are family members including myself and my husband. One is a boy from school, one is a preschool teacher, and two are family members of a friend from camp (who doesn’t have an account himself). He hasn’t been on Facebook in about two months and that’s about as regularly as he is on there. I certainly have some ethical issues with this, but I guess I am not taking the drastic step of actually deleting the account.

I’m not sure how the story will turn out, but I asked the reporter not to make me look too hypocritical. I don’t support the use of social networks for kids under 13. The problems certainly outweigh the benefits. I don’t think social networking is a skill that needs to be mastered as a preteen. Sometimes, however, you just give in to your kids in the same way you might get them that puppy they’ve always wanted. That’s my son’s latest project–wearing me down for a pet. I might have caved on Facebook, but I’m still maintaining a dog-free house.

FYI, danah boyd conducted some interesting research last year that was published in First Monday called “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age” .

June 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm 1 comment

SNOPA is anti-Snoopa

Legislation introduced in Congress last week by Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) bans employers from requiring employees provide passwords to social networking sites as a condition of hiring or employment. This legislation, called the Social Networking Online Protection Act, or SNOPA, would also apply to colleges and schools. Maryland has already passed a similar bill at the state level and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Despite how crazy it sounds, some employers are asking for passwords so they can log into social media accounts and poke around in the prospective employee’s private life. The weak economy and job market has created a situation where people are desperate for work and will comply with such requests. This is a coercive practice that takes advantage of vulnerable job seekers. Who’s doing this? Many university coaches are requiring this of their players. We had seen examples where schools require students who have allegedly made a negative comment about a teacher or talking about something inappropriate online to turn over log-in information. Police departments, correctional facilities, and public agencies have also asked for passwords. This is a serious privacy violation!

A recent study found that 75% of recruiters conduct online research of job applicants, which is much different than turning over passwords. Many social networking users, however, have utilized the privacy controls of the sites. This move is smart and can protect you from people accessing your private information. Remember, however, that anything in the public domain is searchable.

Employers have used other methods to gain access  to your accounts other than asking for passwords. The hiring manager may require the applicant to sign into their accounts during the interview or friend the potential employer.

This practice removes the boundary between our private and personal lives.  We still need to have a boundary there, even in this world of oversharing. Would you allow a potential employer to read your personal mail, look at your photo albums, bug your phones, or visit your home? We should be allowed some expectation of privacy because our private behavior does not necessarily impact our professional lives. A social drinker will likely not be drinking on the job. Knowledge of some of the information available on these sites (e.g., age, sexual orientation, religion) could open up the potential employer to discrimination lawsuits if the candidate is not selected.  These employers have access to not only your wall, photos, and information, but also private Facebook messages. This practice also gives the employer access to friends’ profiles, violating their privacy as well. People who access your account may also assume your identity for nefarious purposes.

The terms of service for all social networking sites ask users to safeguard their passwords. Facebook and Linkedin specifically request that you do not allow anyone to access your account and keep your password confidential.

At the same time, it is wise to consider the content that you are posting on your sites and whether you are creating a favorable image of yourself. Look at your profiles objectively. What do they say about you? If it’s not a good representation of the person you believe you are, clean them up. Doublecheck all your privacy settings and make sure they are appropriate for you.

May 3, 2012 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

What is my smartphone doing to me?

Many of us have discovered the benefits of smartphones. A Nielsen study from February 2012 reported smartphone penetration in the U.S. to be almost 50%. For the three-month period ending in February 2012, two-thirds of mobile purchases were smartphones. For me, I use my smartphone to check email when I’m on the go, browse the web, take photos, post to Twitter or Facebook, check in on Foursquare, text, schedule appointments, and of course, make phone calls. I’m not a big app user and most of the apps I use are from retailers, like Publix, Walgreens, Redbox, and Smoothie King.

Although smartphones are certainly beneficial to users and help to facilitate communication, researchers are starting to explore how smartphones might be detrimental to our self-esteem, relationships, and ability to entertain ourselves. Here are some issues related to smartphone use.

1. Smartphones cut us off from our surroundings. If you look at your smartphone every moment you find yourself with some downtime, you are missing an opportunity to engage with the world. The phone becomes a crutch, and instead of interacting with your environment, you are looking at your phone. Instead, practice mindfulness. Engage the world with your five senses. What do you smell? See? Hear? Perhaps you might strike up a conversation with a stranger and have an interaction that is more interesting than checking Facebook status updates.

2. Smartphones fulfill entertainment needs that could happen offline. Instead of playing a game on your smartphone, have family game night or go to a bar that offers a trivia game. Instead of watching a video on your phone, go to a concert. When we focus too much on using our phone for entertainment, we miss opportunities for offline entertainment.

3. Your smartphone may be impacting your relationships when you are present with other people. If you are taking calls, texting, or checking email while in the real-life presence of others, you are communicating to those people that they are not your priority and that something more interesting is happening with your online friends.

4. Chronic texting and Facebooking may impact your ability to engage people in meaningful conversations. Can you tell a story in more than 140 characters? If you don’t practice these skills, you will never master them. A conversation is more than just quick bursts of thought.

5. If you are using Facebook excessively, it may contribute to a condition called Facebook envy. Seeing photos of friends vacationing in fabulous places or hearing about their genius kids can become depressing. Remember that people on Facebook are often only sharing an idealized version of their lives.

In summary,  your phone should be a tool to improve your life and not your life.

If you want to read more, here is a great New York Times piece by Sherry Turkle: The Flight From Conversation

April 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

SEO your WordPress.com Blog

Many of us use the free services of WordPress to host a blog. How can you SEO your WordPress blog without registering your domain name?

1. The first step is to register with the webmaster tools provided by major search engines. From your WordPress dashboard, choose Tools then look at Webmaster Tools Verification. Click first on Google Webmaster Tools. (You may need to open another window, one for Google Tools and the other with your blog’s dashboard to make this easier.) Click the “add a site” button and then type the URL of your blog. After hitting enter, you will be at the Webmaster Central page. Choose the alternative method tab and then choose “add a meta tag to your site’s home page.” Copy that meta tag provided for you and then back on your Tools page of your blog dashboard, paste it next to “Google Webmaster Tools.” Save changes from your blog. Then go back to your Google Webmaster Tools page and click Verify. You can then go through a similar process to register your blog with Bing. You will want to choose option 2 (Copy and Paste a Tag in your Default Webpage). Copy the tag and post onto your blog Tools page. Save the changes and then go back to Bing Webmaster Central to verify. You can go back to Google Webmaster Tools with this link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home or to the Bing Webmaster Tools with this link: https://ssl.bing.com/webmaster

2. Some themes have better SEO than others. The blog Ravidreams suggests Vigilance and Linen. Google “WordPress themes with good SEO” for other examples.

3. You should tag your posts with 5-10 relevant keywords. This WordPress support site explains tags vs. categories. Your posts will then appear in global tag listings like this one from WordPress. Here are some guidelines about global tag listings.

April 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

Best Ideas from 21 Ways Non-Profits Can Leverage Social Media

Rich Brooks wrote a helpful article on Social Media Examiner called “21 Ways Non-Profits Can Leverage Social Media”. Which of these ideas are most useful to my students for their social media cause campaigns?

#1: Use a blog to tell your story My students are required to blog about the School Supplies for Afghan Children project and use text, photos and videos to tell the story.

#2: Make sure your stories are shareable ShareThis is suggested as a good tool to use for this purpose.

#3: Make it easy to subscribe to your stories On WordPress, you can select RSS Links as one of the widgets for your blog.

#5: Create a Facebook page for your non-profit I’m not requiring that my students create a Facebook page for their campaign (only a blog and Twitter account), but #10: Use Facebook Events and LinkedIn Events to spread the word might be a good way for them to publicize their required event.

#13: Start conversations around hashtags What hashtag could my students use? Should all teams use the same hashtag? #afghanschoolsupplies maybe?

#15: Create a banner that stakeholders can add to their avatars I’ve always thought these banners were cool and never knew how to go about creating one. Brooks suggests Twibbon.

Many of his suggestions are only relevant if you are an actual non-profit, but the ones I’ve highlighted above are applicable to anyone trying to build awareness of a cause.

October 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

Social Media Campaign Project

I’m teaching a class this semester called PR Issues where my students are creating a social media cause campaign for School Supplies for Afghan Children. My challenge is finding resources to help my students learn how to raise awareness and donations for this cause. They have been reading David Scott Meerman’s New Rules of Marketing and Public Relations, which is an excellent resource. I’m looking for other books, blog posts, white papers, etc. that might help them on this journey. I will be extending this project next semester when this same group of students creates a campaign in Advanced Public Relations. So I plan to blog here and share my experiences and lessons. You can find a copy of the assignment description under my tab titled MMC 6415, where my social media assignments for a grad class are posted.

October 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

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