COM0015 – Blog 1: Social Media Trends and News Sources

Social media trends

There are two ways in which I keep track of social media trends. First, I am subscribed to daily newsletters from Social Media Today, SocialBakers Blog, Hootsuite Blog, and Influencer Marketing Hub. Newsletters from these platforms go directly to a dedicated folder in my email inbox. I look at these newsletters daily to get a sense of major developments around social platform updates, social media marketing, digital marketing, etc.

On a typical work day, when I am glued to a computer screen, receiving a newsletter via email is the best way to make sure I pay attention to it. Source: Giphy

Second, I use LinkedIn and Twitter search functionality to find content that contains keywords and hashtags of interest to me. This allows me to track what various thought leaders and influencers think about where the world of social media is moving.

I use these particular listening and monitoring tools because they provide a good coverage of the topics that I am interested in. I use insights I get through these tools to develop and tweak social media plans and content. I also use these insights to learn about what is happening in the social media world beyond my area of expertise.

News and updates sources

I use Google Alerts to stay abreast of news and updates of interest. I currently receive daily alerts for 18 keywords, and I change these keywords quite often.

I also use Flipboard, a free news aggregator, that fetches news from all the websites I follow and organizes them into “magazines” for my convenience.

Google Alerts and Flipboard help me stay up-to-date with news and updates of personal and professional interest. GIF source: @rjblomberg on Giphy.

I prefer Google Alerts and Flipboard to other tools because they are easy to use, reliable and free. They help me stay up-to-date with major developments that are important for the organization I work for and for my personal professional development.

And what tools do you use to track social media trends or news of interest? Let me know in the comments section below.

COM0014 – Blog 7: Personal Reflection

Between mid-May and early July 2020, I took a Digital Communication course at the Algonquin College. Here is my brief reflection on what I learnt in the course.

Stories make great content

There is a lot of information in the digital world. An average social media user is bombarded by thousands of various messages as soon as they go on any online platform. If you want your message and content to stand out, you need to tell powerful stories. You also need to do so in your unique and authentic voice.

Social media users are bombarded by information. Source: Hulu on Giphy.

Stories shape content into something that resonates with audiences. A story provides content with a natural flow, from a beginning to an end. In doing so, stories give digital content a form that most people are wired to follow.

Stories help you explain what makes your business or organization unique, and they do so in a compelling way.

Every story needs an audience

In crafting digital content, it is important to know who its audience is. In modern multicultural societies, audiences are bound to be culturally diverse. Therefore, it is important to understand the various groups within your target audiences and to ensure that your messages resonate with all of these groups.

In storytelling, it is important to know who your audience is. Source: GOV BALL NYC on Giphy.

When you know who exactly you are targeting with the content, it is much easier to decide what kind of stories you want to tell and how you want to tell them. Stories will guide your content.

My stories

Storytelling is already helping me in my job. I use stories to communicate important digital safety messages to audiences that are not likely to pay attention to information conveyed in a different way.

And what kind of stories are you telling? Does your audience find these stories compelling? Let me know in the comments below.

COM0014 – Blog 6: How I Help Make the World a Better Place

Stolen laptop

One evening in 2018, Olga closed her laptop and walked out of a hotel room in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, for a quick dinner. She had arrived in the city the previous night to participate in a workshop for local civil society groups. As the head of a small human rights watchdog, she was a regular at these events.

When Olga returned to the hotel, her laptop was not there. The hotel had no security cameras, and police officers who soon arrived said it was unlikely that she would get the device back. That only reinforced the woman’s suspicion that the laptop had been taken by the authorities. As a vocal member of a coalition demanding justice for victims of police abuse, she knew the authorities would do anything to get access to her data.

Having your laptop stolen can ruin many lives if you have sensitive or confidential files on the hard drive. GIF source: Giphy

Having the laptop stolen could have had dire consequences for Olga, her organization and other people that she worked with. She had a lot of sensitive files on her hard drive, including testimonies from victims of police torture. If this data fell into the hands of the authorities, it would have been a disaster for many people.

Encryption and backups

Nonprofits and activists are particularly vulnerable to attacks targeting their online assets and digital devices. The Ottawa-based organization I work for helps civil society organizations in countries like Kazakhstan to tackle digital risks.

Shortly before Olga’s laptop was stolen, we had helped her organization to put in place basic digital safety measures. Those measures included encrypting her laptop and setting up automatic backups. So, Olga not only kept all her files but also knew that the thief would not be able to decrypt them. As a precaution against possible device loss, we had also enabled remote erase on the laptop. With the laptop gone, the woman activated this function and knew that as soon as her device connected to the Internet, its hard drive would be wiped.

This is what we do on a daily basis. This work is important for activists and civil society groups fighting injustices and making their communities and nations better places to live.

Your turn

And what is your your favourite customer story? Have you ever helped someone in a way that made you particularly proud of your job? Share your stories in the comments below.

COM0014 – Blog 5: Brand Me

I am a communications professional who currently manages social media for an Ottawa-based nonprofit. Several things set me apart from other professionals in my field.

There are a lot of people out there with skillsets and experience similar to mine.
A key part of my personal brand is what makes me stand out. GIF source: Giphy

First, I have a lot of experience in delivering high-stakes communications campaigns in difficult operational environments. Such environments include post-conflict nations, characterized by repressive political system, endemic corruption, and deep-seated suspicion of foreign-funded projects. I know how to move forward and secure crucial allies in seemingly hopeless situations. This means that I can be a valuable asset to internationally funded development projects and initiatives working in such places.

I have delivered successful communications campaigns in difficult
operational environments. GIF source: Giphy

Second, I am good at crafting messages that resonate with various audiences. In my current role, I develop a lot of social media content focusing on digital safety. The people I work with often commend my ability to explain complex and technical terms or processes in plain language. I have recently begun using comics to convey digital safety advice.

I am good at writing for various audiences. GIF source: Giphy

Finally, I have a sharp analytical mind that allows me to see patterns amidst thousands of data points, extract key information from these patterns, and pinpoint connections between seemingly unrelated events and developments. In addition to my social media work, I help the organization I work for to understand and position itself to capitalize on major political, economic and social developments in the regions where we operate. I am particularly proud of this aspect of my work.

COM0014 – Blog 4: Books and Nooks

On a recent walk in the park in Kanata, ON where I live, I noticed a sticker on a bench. In black letters on a simple white background, the sticker read, “Support a local business. Shop at Books and Nooks.” The catchy name stuck in my mind and I soon found myself googling it.

Books and Nooks is small, family-owned company selling books, accessories and knick-knacks online.

Screenshot from the Books and Nooks website.

Books and Nooks on social media

The company has a great-looking and easy-to-navigate website. The website tells the story of Books and Nooks and features on online store. It is also home to the company’s blog, MishMash, offering tips and insights around everything related to reading, home decor and fashion.

Books and Nooks has an active presence on Facebook and Instagram. The company is using these platforms to build relationships with its customer base and to drive traffic to its website. To achieve this, Books and Nooks posts images related to reading, motivational quotes, links to new blogs, and stories about the products it is selling.

Screenshot of an image on Books and Nooks Facebook page, encouraging customers to buy from local businesses.

Interactions

The company also uses its social media presence to responds to questions and comments from customers. These interactions, however, appear to be scarce. Overall, Books and Nooks’ social media accounts do not seem to register much engagement.

Yet, the company’s interactions with customers that are visible on the platforms are timely and professional. Whoever runs these accounts responds to comments and questions in a courteous and helpful manner, thus helping to establish long-term relationships with customers.

I think that Books and Nooks has so far failed to capitalize on its social media presence. The company does publish content that some of its existing customer base may find interesting. However, its posts on both platforms generate few interactions and do not seem to help the company attract new customers.

Do you happen to know of any small, family-owned companies successfully using social media to promote their business? What makes these companies successful? Please let me know in the comments below.

COM0014 – Blog 3: The Audience I Am Trying to Reach

Digital technology is everywhere. It is permeating everything we do and shapes how we do it. In this context, it is important that everyone understands risks associated with digital technologies and has the skills to handle these risks.

Digital technology is everywhere. Source: Giphy

Digital safety project

I work for an Ottawa-based nonprofit that helps civil society organizations stay safe online. One of the particularly challenging projects that I am currently helping to get off the ground supports small civil society and independent media organizations in Kyrgyzstan, a small nation at the heart of Central Asia, by helping them understand and tackle digital risks.

The following is my attempt to define the audience for the project’s social media channels and describe some ways to reach this audience.

The younger urbanites

The project’s audience includes individuals working for or collaborating with small independent media organizations and civil society organizations in Kyrgyzstan.

These are mostly young people, between 20 and 35 years old, living in large cities. About two out of three individuals in this group are men. Most of these individuals are recent graduates from one of two Western-style universities in Kyrgyzstan, the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) and OSCE Academy in Bishkek. More than half of people in this group spent at least a year studying abroad, typically in the United States or United Kingdom.

The younger urbanites have grown up in the world
permeated by digital technology. Source: Giphy

These individuals come from middle-class families with mostly university-educated parents. At least eight out of 10 people in this group speak fluent Russian and more than half speak fluent English.

Reaching them

Most individuals within this audience have grown up in the world permeated by digital technology. They embrace digital technology and have a good understanding of risks stemming from their reliance on these technologies.

They embrace digital technology. Source: Giphy

The best social media platforms to reach this audience include Facebook and Instagram. Video and images are the two types of content best suited for this audience.

All educational content should assume a good level of familiarity with basic digital safety practices and aim at providing practical recommendations rather than abstract advice. One type of content that I expect to resonate particularly well with this audience is humorous content, specifically memes.

Do you know of any organization doing similar work around digital safety? Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to reach the audience I described? I will be happy to hear from you in the comments below.

COM0014 – Blog 2: It All Starts With a Story

Stories are the building blocks of human communication. They are the most effective way to convey information. The most effective storytellers use their unique voices, an important part of who they are, to communicate both online and offline.

Start With a Story

Stories are at the core of communication. We tell stories to pass on information and make it interesting. We also tell stories to make sure that the audience understands the message we want to convey.

Source: @linski101 on Giphy

Best stories have a structure that makes it easier for people to follow them. They have a beginning or introduction that sets the scene for what the author is trying to do. The main message is conveyed in the body of the story. Finally, a good story has a conclusion that typically reveals what the story is about.

If you are pushing out content on social media, turn that content into stories that your audience will want to hear.

Every Story Is Unique

Even when several people tell the same story, the way they tell it will differ. This is because we all have unique voices. The most effective communicators build on their distinctive voices in telling stories.

Source: @paleycenter on Giphy

Your communication style is the ultimate expression of your unique voice. The way you tell stories will vary depending on the context, from very casual to very formal. Yet people will still be able to recognize your voice behind the story if you follow your communication style consistently.

Tell Your Story

Do you ever think of what you post on social media as stories? What is the greatest story you ever told on social media? I will be happy to hear from you in the comments below.

COM0014 – Blog 1: My Dandelion Vacation

Last year, we moved into a new house with a big front lawn. It was late May, and the lawn was full of dandelions. They were a delight for my daughter. As the yellow fuzzy flowers turned into white puffballs, she would pick them and blow the seeds.

What seemed to be a fun and innocent thing last year turned into a nightmare this spring. Our front lawn was infected with dandelions. I decided to take a week-long vacation to get rid of them.

Digging them up

I began by digging up all the dandelions I could find on my lawn. The problem with this particular weed is that it has a very long and sturdy root. To get rid of a dandelion, you need to remove its entire taproot which is typically between six and 10 inches long. If you break the root and leave even a tiny portion of it in the ground, it will spawn several more dandelions.

Following a neighbour’s advice, I watered my lawn the night before. It is much easier to remove the long taproots when the soil is damp. Instead of going for a traditional stand-up weed remover which seems to leave most of the root intact, I used a weeding knife.

Removing dandelions with this tool was an arduous task. I worked the knife down along the base of each dandelion in several places and pushed as much soil as I could away from the root of the plant by wiggling the tool. I then grasped the base of the plant between my fingers and pulled the root out before moving to the next dandelion.

Replacing yellow with green

The back-breaking effort took me three days to complete. Now I had to fill the empty spots on my lawn with new grass,

It took me another two days to fill holes left on the lawn with soil, mow the grass, aerate the lawn and cover it with a thin layer of top soil. On the sixth day, I spread the grass seed by hand and used a rack to mix the seeds with the soil. I finished the day by watering the lawn.

At this point, I am not sure what will come out of my week-long battle with dandelions. I hope most of them are gone for good, and my lawn next spring will be green rather than yellow.

Have you ever had to remove dandelions from your yard? If so, how did you go about it? Please share your tips in the comments below.

Could Human Moderators and Algorithms Ban Hitler from Facebook?

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other big social media platforms are the “greatest propaganda machine in history.” The verdict has recently been rendered by Sacha Baron Cohen, an English actor and comedian, and amplified by both the traditional media and users of the “greatest propaganda machine.”

An excerpt from Sasha Baron Cohen’s speech, uploaded on YouTube by Guardian News on November 23, 2019.

Would Hitler buy Facebook ads?

Cohen who is mostly known for his satirical characters “Ali G,” “Borat” and “Brüno,” burst out against social media and Internet giants at the Anti-Defamation League summit in New York on November 21. Blaming major social media platforms for an upsurge in “hate crimes” and “murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities,” Cohen denounced algorithms these platforms use for favouring content that promotes “hate, conspiracies and lies.”

The comedian was particularly angry with Facebook for not vetting the political ads the platform ran. He claimed, “if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.” Cohen’s full remarks can be read here.

Cohen is best known for his satirical and often controversial fictitious characters, including Borat. Source: Giphy

The fix

So, how can we fix the increasingly powerful and pervasive social media? Cohen proposed a two-pronged solution: the US government should be more assertive in regulating social media sites, while the platforms should be more ferocious in policing content.

While some government regulation of tech giants is perhaps unavoidable, the second part of the strategy, content moderation by platforms, seems to be too ridden with technical and political issues to placate social media critics.

At the moment, social media sites appear to use two main mechanisms for user content moderation – human moderators and algorithms.

Imperfect humans

Over the last several years, social media companies have recruited tens of thousands of people around the world to screen and delete content that users flag as violent or offensive. How exactly these networks of human content moderators operate is shrouded in secrecy. What evidence is available, however, suggests that these moderators are undertrained and overstressed, while how they do their work is inconsistent, confusing and often illogical.

At a more fundamental level, users appear to have serious doubts about whether social media sites are capable of and should be entrusted to police what they post and share. A recent study by Pew Research Centre suggests that while 66% of adults in the United States believe social media sites should remove offensive content from their platforms, only 31% trust these sites in determining what exactly constitutes offensive content.

Besides, human moderators inadvertently allow their own biases to impact their work, and there is evidence of all kinds of biases displayed by content moderators.

Source: Giphy

Even less perfect algorithms

Social media platforms use increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms to detect and remove content that contains hate speech, violence, terrorist propaganda, nudity and spam.

The inherent problem with these algorithms, however, is that they lack contextual and situational awareness. In practice, this means that in determining whether certain content should be removed, algorithms cannot distinguish between nudity in Renaissance art and sexual activity, or violence in a movie and in a user-uploaded video. As a result, mess caused by algorithms in content moderation often requires the involvement of human moderators.

Besides, just like the human moderators that they are supposed to replace, algorithms have been shown to be biased against certain demographic groups.

Artificial intelligence algorithms so far remain ill-equipped for content moderation on social media. Source: Giphy

What’s next?

It looks like for the time being, social media companies will have to rely on a combination of human moderators and algorithms to vet and remove offensive content. After all, humans are trainable and algorithms can always be improved.

Do you think social media sites should be policing user content? Do you trust these sites in determining which content is offensive? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!