The Voices of the People: Blogging

As you can see from this page, I have a blog.  I have never had a blog before this one and its still a work in progress.  This is only my tenth blog post ever, which I feel makes me fully qualified to write about blogging as a whole.  If you are reading this, you clearly support my blogging credentials and I really appreciate your confidence in me.

The massive range and reach of blogs is truly incredible.  As of July 2011, there were 164 million blogs worldwide.  Almost half of these blogs are located in the United States.  On WordPress.com, there are 42 million blogs (including mine) that garner 25 billion page views every month (possibly not all on mine).  Each day, 1.4 million posts are made.  57 million Americans read blogs, showing the incredible number of eyes that one’s blog could possibly reach.  These blogs cover every single category imaginable, from travel to sports to cooking to Halloween costumes.  If there is another person in the world interested in the topic, there is a blog about it.

I read a fair amount of blogs, though they are not on a very wide variety of topics.  Almost all of the blogs I read are focused on sports.  I read a blog about the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Nationals, the Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards, and multiple blogs about the Ohio State Buckeyes,.  I also read Nate Silver’s political blog Five Thirty Eight from the New York Times.

There is a lot that goes into writing a good blog.  The first thing to think about is the type of audience you want to attract.  If you write a blog about sports, posts about your vacation or what you cooked for dinner will not be a good way to attract more readers.  Staying to the topic you pick for your blog can let the reader know that your posts will fit their interest.  The next important step is to write consistently.  While this might not be my strength, it is a good idea to maintain a consistent voice online.  Posting at a steady pace allows your readers to know when they can expect to hear more of what you have to say.

A good way to gain readers is to link your blog back to social media.  If you are like me, you have built a strong social media presence over the years.  This network that has been built up is full of people who are already fans of what you have to say.  Informing them of your blog through social media and vice-versa are great ways to combine the fans of your work.  Finally, a good blog is full of pictures and links to other sites.  My Communications professor has said to, “never leave your readers at a dead end.”  By providing your readers links to sources and other web sites, you can draw others into the conversation and give those that influenced you credit for their work.

Blogging allows for anyone with an Internet connection the ability to make his or her voice heard.  However, the market is completely stocked with blogs on every single topic.  Marketing and consistency are needed to stand out of the crowd and be found by readers.  Once they have found you, the quality of your work will keep them coming back.  Trust me.  I got you here, didn’t I?

Unlimited Communications: The Power of a Smartphone

In the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, the characters time travel back to the 1980s.  One of the main characters from 2011 meets a girl and as he is trying to make plans to see her later, he runs into a problem.  After offers to text her or find her online are met by confusion due to it being the 1980s and none of that technology existing yet, the girl exclaims, “Come find me!

Smartphone usage has expanded rapidly in the past few years.  50.4 percent of United States cell phone consumers use smartphones.  The differences between smartphones and “dumb phones” are pretty clear.  A study has shown that the main uses of a regular cell phone, phone calls and texting, are the fifth and seventh most used applications used on smartphones (browsing the Internet, social networks, and playing games are the top three.)  More than 1/3 of smartphone users check social networking sites “several times a day.

Today, everyone can be contacted at any time of the day.  Plans do not need to be made in advance and meeting places do not need to be arranged.  Long distance relationships can be continued with a text message.  No one is unavailable simply because they are not at home.

A smartphone fundamentally changes the interactions one has with the items in their pocket.  Having an argument?  Look up facts and evidence on your phone.  Need directions?  Phone has GPS.  Think of something funny?  Tweet it in seconds.  The smartphone is also the greatest thing to happen to bathroom breaks since two-ply toilet paper.

Once having a smart phone, it is very, very difficult to go without.  This summer, I studied abroad in Italy.  While I bought a phone as soon as I got there, I had no 3G or data.  My phone became as advanced as an old flip phone.  Gone was my GPS.  Gone was my access to Facebook.  Gone was my access to any information about sights we went to see, sports scores or entertainment when I was killing time.  At least I was able to send texts and make phone calls.

Other members of my group were not as lucky.  Many of my friends did not get European phones.  Thus, they had to rely solely on sporadic WIFI for any communication with someone outside of earshot.  They had to plan ahead, arrange meeting locations, and often, failed to meet up with friends when something with the plan went wrong.  One example was a plan to meet at a large public square to watch the European Championship game on a huge screen that was supposed to be set up.  We decided to meet in at the back of the square at 7:00 pm for the 7:30 match.  I arrived at 7:10, only to realize that the location of the screen had been moved across town.  I tried to find my friends, but with none of them having phones and I not having WIFI, we had no way to communicate.  I wandered the city, searching for my friends to no avail.  In the United States, it would not have been an issue.  Two text messages and a phone call and we would have met up.  But it was not to be.

While this resource provides all of these benefits, there are drawbacks to being always available.  Workers used to be done for the day when they left the office.  Now, people are expected to be available at all hours of the day. The excuse of “I wasn’t home so I missed your call” no longer applies.  People are also over dependent on their phones.    Smartphones can draw the user in so much that they forget to concentrate on what is directly in front of them.  I have been with groups of friends, all hanging out together, all in our own worlds on our phones.  We were all too busy communicating with the rest of the world to focus on our friends in the same room.

Smartphones have changed the communications game.  Having a mini computer in your pocket at all times provides access to all of the power of the Internet.  It allows you to communicate with people everywhere. But there are also negatives.  People become entirely focused on their own stream of information, ignoring communal hangouts and missing traditional conversation.  Albert Einstein said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”  While the advantages of the smartphone are great, we all need to be sure that we can remain grounded in real life, and to not get lost in the unlimited communications available on our phones.

Twitter’s Influence in the Wide World of Sports

Twitter is everywhere.  This statement may seem obvious or an exaggeration, based on how much you use it.  However, it is certainly everywhere in the sporting world.

On every sports broadcast, be it SportsCenter, a soccer game, a show about fantasy football, or golf coverage, Twitter’s presence can be seen.  The handles of the commentators are seen directly under their names.  Hashtags are seen during the broadcast, often in the top corner as the game is being played.  Online, viewers around the world can use that hashtag to connect and discuss the action.  Everyday people can see the thoughts of athletes and celebrities as they watch the same event.  People who will never meet can discuss each play, score and win.

One of the reasons Twitter has revolutionized the viewing of sports is the expanded communal aspect the game creates.  When watching a game, it is best to be in the stadium, surrounded by others experiencing the same thing in the same environment.  Those there feel the energy in the arena, and this joint experience establishes a bond.  Twitter helps capture some of that feel.  Chuck Klosterman wrote an article for the web site Grantland.com about the difference between watching a sporting event in real time versus on tape delay.  He argues that tape delay distances oneself from the actual event.  Those who are there in person share a “hard reality,” sharing both time and space.  Those watching from home are a “soft reality” – the same time but different space.  Twitter cannot bridge space, but it allows those watching the event to share the experience with millions of people around the world, a slightly larger group than those who you could fit in your living room to watch the game.

One example of this was the closing minutes of the most recent Super Bowl.  As the New York Giants began their comeback, Twitter was exploding.  According to MediaBistro.com, the final minutes of the game had 10,245 tweets being posted per SECOND.  Think about the enormity of that number for one second.  That’s 10,000 tweets that would have been posted.  In the time it took you to read that last sentence, over 30,000 tweets would have been sent out into the Twittersphere.  In one single minute, over half a million tweets were tweeted.  The incredible number of user participating in this event allowed perspectives from around the world to be heard.

The main way that Twitter has changed the sports environment is the communication between athletes and fans.  50 percent of NFL players are on Twitter, as are 75 percent of NBA players.  Fans not only can get insight into what their favorite players are thinking and doing, but also can communicate directly with them.  Twitter allows for a direct line of communication between the fans and the players.  Athletes can ask their followers for advice, have contests, and generally grow their brand among their fan base.  Twitter removes the media from the equation, circumventing the traditional gatekeepers of access to the players, and providing a direct line between fan and athlete.

The media loses their stranglehold of access to players, but makes up for it in their ability to send out instant analysis of events.  In the past, journalists needed to write entire articles, wait for them to be edited, re-edited, and eventually placed in the newspaper for release the following day.  With Twitter, journalists avoid their gatekeepers, allowing them to post breaking news and analysis quickly and simply.  Play-by-play analysis from reporters is more and more common, adding knowledgeable information to the worldwide discussion on the event.

Twitter has sparked a revolution for sports coverage.  It provides for “’always-on’ fandom”, with fans able to follow their team ad-nauseam.  It allows teams and players to connect directly with fans at a level previously unfathomable.  It gives journalists a place to comment on issues that don’t require an entire 1,000-word article.  Twitter is even showing its influence on the field of play.   Mississippi State recently put the hashtag #snowbowl12 in their end zone for a game.  If that can’t convince you of Twitter’s reach, I don’t know what will.

Repeated to Death

It happens every single year.  Every time the playoffs roll around in any sport, the incessant commercials come with it.  While it makes sense that advertisers would flock to the biggest stage to showcase their products, sometimes they take it too far by repeating the same commercial.  The issue is not repeating it once, twice or even ten times.  The issue arises when the exact same commercial runs each and every commercial break.

The best example of this took place during the 2007 and 2008 MLB playoffs.  The games were being shown on TBS, which wanted to promote a new show called “Frank TV.”  This show featured “comedian” Frank Caliendo doing impressions of celebrities.  The commercials for this show featured Caliendo doing one of the impressions, followed by the announcer declaring the show’s beginning on November 20th.  Watch this ad and consider how it makes you feel.

Now watch it 1,000 more times.  How do you feel now?

This advertising campaign received significant media coverage.  Unfortunately for Caliendo and TBS, it was exclusively negative.  Entertainment Weekly wrote an article on their web site in 2007 titled, “A Show I Will Never Watch: ‘FrankTV’”.  Deadspin.com titled their article about the advertisements, “FrankTV, The Show We Hated A Month Before It Began.”  Deadspin spent the entire post ripping on the show, ending it by saying, “By the way, in case you think running a picture of an ad for ‘Frank TV’ comes across as some sort of advertisement for the show, allow us to make this clear: Please, please do not watch this show. Thank you.”

Having not learned their lesson at all, TBS began the same type of promotion during the 2008 playoffs.  That year, the Onion’s A.V Club wrote an article about their dislike of the repetition of the promo, opening the post with the line, “If you’ve been watching the baseball playoffs on TBS, you’ve probably seen ads for the Frank Caliendo sketch comedy show Frank TV, oh, about a billion fucking times.”  PremiumHollywood.com criticized the “absolutely ceaseless promos for ‘FrankTV’” that aired.  The article goes on to say that Caliendo called his agent about the media attention, and that he assured Caliendo that the coverage was good because, “people are talking about it.”  BroadcastingCable.com, when reporting on the show’s cancellation in early 2009, wrote that the show, “gained notoriety early on mostly because it was heavily promoted by the network during its baseball playoff broadcasts that year, enough so that even Caliendo would joke about it in subsequent interviews.”

From an advertising perspective, it makes sense to run ads more than once.  Repeated viewings increase the chance the viewer remembers your product.  A blog post by the PR firm Tanner Friedman presents that statistic that says “3.7 impressions” are needed before the viewer “gets the message.”  However, this post also says that once “the viewer has seen it 15 times, it ceases to be effective.”  Advertisers would be good to remember this statistic.

Viewers naturally dislike commercials.  They are interruptions in the middle of content the viewer is trying to enjoy.  When one show or company is overwhelming the viewer, the opinions they will gain will be negative.  Instead of an interest in the show, more viewers during those baseball playoffs were yelling at their televisions, “Go away Frank Caliendo! Let me get back to watching the game!”

Every year, a different commercial overwhelms the playoffs.  At the time, it makes me angry at that company or product or show.  But when I was trying to think of an example for this post, FrankTV was the most recent I could think of.  The other advertisements made me mad at the moment, but were clearly very forgettable in the long run, something the advertisers would be very unhappy to hear.

You Just Had to Be There: Live-Tweeting an Event

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In my last post, I had just completed a tweetchat at a PRSSA meeting.  I had been disappointed in the event, expecting more of a conversation and experiencing a simple play-by-play of the event I was attending.  After live-tweeting the recent Barack Obama-Bruce Springsteen-Jay-Z rally, I realized that I knew even less about Twitter than I had previously thought.

At the tweetchat, I was frustrated that most of the tweets by the participants (myself included) were describing the event as it happened.  Most of the tweets were quotes from the speaker or comments about her speech.  This type of tweeting missed the point of a tweetchat.  A tweetchat is designed to be an online meet up and conversation between Twitter users.  It is a conversation that users can follow and participate in from anywhere, simply by using that hashtag while tweeting on their account.  In short, what I had expected from a tweetchat is indeed the way a tweetchat is supposed to go.

My experience in tweetchat was undermined by a few key factors.  First, most of the participants in the chat were in the same room attending the event.  This meant that tweets were more likely to parrot what was being said in the room at the time.  If the users had been scattered across the globe, they could not have relied on direct quotes from the speaker; they would have been forced to converse to make up the tweetchat.  Second, many of the users were inexperienced in tweetchats.  It was the first one I had participated in, leaving me unsure as to how the event would go until I was already participating.  I am sure others in the room felt similarly unfamiliar with the format.  If I had participated in a tweetchat with more experienced users, I may have learned more about how to best use that medium.

When I attempted to live-tweet the Obama rally, I realized that this was what I had done at the PRSSA meeting.  I was tweeting to my followers live updates about who was speaking, what they were saying, the reactions of the crowd, and other observations that could only come from someone who was actually there.  Whether it was comments about Mayor Coleman speaking on stage, what songs Jay-Z was performing, photos of my seat at the rally, or simply that the spot lights on the ceiling were shinning directly in our eyes, my Twitter followers could get a description of what it was like to attend this event in person.

These two formats both clearly differ from general tweeting because they are more direct and on-target.  General tweeting can be about anything, but these two formats both are about one specific event as it is occurring.

Of the two different formats, I prefer live-tweeting.  I certainly see the value of the conversations had using tweetchats and I enjoy the use of hashtags to collaborate tweets about specific events, but live-tweeting fits my style of communication better.  I like attending events and tweeting my observations as the event happens.  I like analyzing a sporting event, speech or activity in real-time.  Live-tweeting allows me to share my up-to-the-second thoughts of something I am doing, capturing my emotions and ideas at the moment.  While I would like to participate in another tweetchat soon, I definitely think I will be more likely to live-tweet events sooner and more frequently.

For more live-tweeting from me, including my live-tweeting from election night, follow me on Twitter @alexbpasternak.

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Hashtag Conversations

            On October 10th, I attended the Ohio State Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) meeting.  While there, I participated in a tweetchat under the hashtag #OSUPR.  50 users participated in the chat during a presentation about job interviews by Mindi Wells.  The information presented was very interesting and should prove useful in my upcoming job search.

            The tweetchat mostly chronicled what the speaker was saying at the time.  For example, when the speaker started talking about legal and illegal questions for an interview, 6 people tweeted some variety of, “Our guest speaker is now talking about what questions are legal/illegal in a job interview.”  While this was what she was talking about, it didn’t really add to the conversation.  Tweets replying to @OhioStatePRSSA’s questions were interesting and relevant to the topic.  @OhioStatePRSSA asked its followers questions like what they would do if asked an illegal question during a job interview.  These questions helped spark tweets that continued the conversation, not just a play-by-play of the event.

            Using tweetchat was a new experience for me.  I had used tweetchat only once before the PRSSA meeting and that was during class this month, so I was still very new to this communication method.  I thought tweetchat was a cool idea and that it would make it easy to create a conversation centered on a single hashtag.  The ability to comment on this presentation and see the thoughts of my fellow students in real time appealed to me.  However, my expectations may have been a tad high.

            I found the tweetchat for this event to be somewhat repetitive.  Most of the participants were tweeting quotes and statements made by the speaker.  These would have been helpful, if not for the fact that we were all there, listening to the same speaker.  Many times during this chat I would hear something interesting from Mindi, only to then see it appear 20 times over on my computer.  The repetition irritated me.  I was hoping to see more tweets that added to the conversation, not ones that parroted what the speaker had said.

            I enjoyed learning about and using tweetchat.  I can definitely see the potential for great conversations through Twitter by use of hashtags and I would very much like to do another tweetchat soon.

Reddit: The Front Page of the Internet

I spend most of my day in front of the computer on the Internet.  Some of this time, I am being productive.  The rest of it is spent on Reddit.

Reddit is a web site made up of user-submitted content.  Once someone posts a link, picture or post on the site, it is either voted up or down by the over eight million users.  The more up-votes a post has, the higher it appears on the home page and thus the more likely it is to be seen.  Reddit is broken up into categories, called subreddits.  Each one has a topic or theme to guide user submissions and is written as “r/” and the topic name.  There are currently over 67,000 subreddits, providing space for just about any category one could be interested in.  There is a subreddit called r/funny, another called r/pokemon and one called r/politics.  From television shows to bands to pictures of sandwiches, Reddit has it all.

Reddit may sound like just another social news site, but the influence Reddit holds separates it from the rest.  There is a section on Reddit devoted to Ask Me Anything posts (AMAs).  Here users with an interesting story can tell the world and then answer their questions.  Some examples include an American soldier who served in Iraq, a KFC manager and a professional BBQ judge. Celebrities frequently use Reddit to talk to their fans and answer their questions.  Some recent AMA participants are Bill Nye the Science Guy, Louis C.K. and President Barack Obama.

Those on Reddit have come together to do great things.  The Reddit community (or redditors) raised over $200,000 for Stephen Colbert’s charity and helped motivate him to have his rally on Washington DC.  This community is very tight-knit and willing to help others out.  Through Reddit Gifts, over 39,000 redditors exchanged gifts, spending over 1 million dollars within the community.  Redditors also helped an adopted redditor find his biological family.  On r/suicidewatch, 15,000 redditors are part of one of the biggest unfunded suicide help line in the world.  Subscribers work to comfort those in their time of need, trying to talk strangers off the ledge.  When Congress tried to pass laws limiting free expression on the Internet, Reddit led an Internet blackout.  Along with Wikipedia, Google and others, Reddit went dark on January 18th in protest of these laws.  The public outcry led to the laws failing to pass.

Reddit is called “the front page of the Internet” because of its incredible ability to compile content.  People linking to content on Reddit have exposed millions to blogs, pictures, videos and stories that would have been buried deep in the Internet, going unnoticed.  The Reddit community is an open forum where new ideas can flourish.  Redditors with new innovations and ideas can post on the site and receive feedback, allowing them to fine-tune their thoughts.

Reddit can be anything the users want it to be.  There are subreddits for everyone and everything.  The Internet is incalculably large, and Reddit helps the user wade through the billions of pages to find the best of the best.

Update: In researching Reddit for this post, I probably spent 2 hours just browsing Reddit.  Like I said, I spend a lot of time on this site.