A UNC Microcosm

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I’ve been conducting interviews and focus groups with UNC upperclassmen for my PR research class. A lot of my research was social media based, so I thought I would share some of the main themes I took away from the process.

Facebook ain’t what it used to be…

…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The general consensus was that while everyone has a Facebook account, they’re not doing a lot in terms of adding content to their personal pages. (ie, I don’t remember when the last time I updated my Facebook status was.) Still, students identified Facebook as one of their most-used social media sites. Why?

Even if we’re not posting statuses, we’re still communicating on Facebook. Our Facebook networks allow us to keep up with others, and the Facebook messenger app is a pretty popular way to get in touch with people.

facebook-event

Facebook events are also a big reason we’re still using the site. First, the events help keep us involved in what’s going on around us. Second, the events help persuade us to get involved too; when you see friends will be attending, you’re more compelled to go than if you had just seen a flyer for the event.

We’re split on online advertising.

adblock

The debate over targeted online ads isn’t anywhere near resolution. Some students thought targeted ads were creepy and invasive, some thought they were funny, some thought they were useful, and some installed Google AdBlock a while ago and don’t have to deal with them at all.

We have specific reasons and expectations for following brands and organizations on social media.

1. Freebies

You can pretty much always bribe us with free stuff to like/follow your brand on social media. I mean, we can always unlike/unfollow after we get the goods, so why not?

2. Witty or relatable posts

We like funny. It brightens our day and it doesn’t make us feel like you’re just here to sell us something. If your brand has a strong grasp of sarcasm, memes, pop culture, or general wit, the posts will be more enjoyable and more likely to keep us as an audience.

DiGornio tweets

3. Engaging with the audience

Maybe it’s vanity or maybe it’s just human nature, but we like to feel like someone is listening to us and cares what we have to say. Brands that respond to Tweets, like Facebook comments, or retweet our personal content are more likely to stay on our good side.

arby's

4. Being the best source of information

If we’re interested in a smaller brand or organization, social media is often the best source for the most up-to-date information. Many of these smaller organizations will have a social media presence before they develop a website or other communications channels since social media is free and easy to use.

We don’t ask (people) for help.

When asked what they would do if they didn’t know how to work a computer program or the latest app, everyone said they would always try to use Google or a YouTube tutorial to figure it out way before they ever considered talking to another person. After the internet resources there’s a hierarchy for human assistance, too: students said they would go to a friend for help if they couldn’t find the answer online. Most students seemed unwilling or uninterested in asking a UNC faculty member (professor, library staff, IT staff) for assistance.

That’s all for now – let me know if my findings ring true for you.

A Beginner’s Guide to Flaking

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Scenario: You make plans to meet a friend for drinks Friday night at 8. At 5pm you text them, “Still on for tonight?”

What are the possible responses, and how do you know if they’re flaky?

The True Confirmation

Flake rating: 0 (Not Flaky)

Reaffirms your plans (and means it). Shows up for drinks. Totally great and not flaky.

The Fake Confirmation

Flake rating: 1 (Deceptively Flaky)

Texts you back at 5 saying you’re definitely still on for drinks, then follows up an hour or two later (or worst-case, just before 8) with some kind of reversal message. Something came up, they can’t make it, or they just don’t feel like going out any more. The message probably contains some kind of self-deprecating statement like, “I know, I suck” or “I’m literally the worst!”

the worst

The Chronic “Maybe” Case

Flake rating: 2 (Maybe Flaky)

Catchphrase: “I’m not sure I can make it, but I’ll try!” It’s the friend who can neither confirm nor deny if she’ll be able to follow through with your plans…ever. Are they really unsure, or is “maybe” just their nice way of saying no? This one probably depends on the person. If they have an unpredictable job or a busy family life, the “maybe” may be for real. If not, they may just be stringing you along, which definitely makes them flaky.

The “Sorry, something came up!”

Flake rating: 3 (Flaky)

Vague and unoriginal, but at least this person thought you were important enough to not leave hanging. There’s about a 75% chance this is a total lie and they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a more specific excuse to ditch you. Or maybe they did actually have something come up last minute that’s more important than your plans together. Either way, definitely flaky.

The Zero-response No-show

Flake rating: 4 (Frustratingly Flaky)

Unacceptable. End friendship. You don’t need this kind of person in your life.

not cool

I’m kidding, but really, unless a true emergency happened to prevent this person from contacting you, there’s no excuse to both not respond and not show up as planned – not with all the ways we have to get in touch with someone.

But the same tools making it easier to contact our friends have contributed to an influx of those friends flaking out on us. Technology makes flaking easier than ever before; you can cancel plans via text or Facebook faster and easier than you could ever cancel face-to-face. Technology makes flaking more convenient (for the flaker) and less socially awkward.

“Nothing lets us so seamlessly shed our commitments quite like a text.” – Kata Hakala, Mic.com

Still, just because we can ditch plans more conveniently doesn’t mean we should. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a flaky text, you know how frustrating it can be. (Especially if you’re in touch with the kind of flaker who tells you they can’t make it for drinks only after you’re already waiting at the bar.)

I think part of the flaking issue stems from an unacknowledged disagreement among friends about Acceptable Flaking Protocol (AFP). Facebook invites are a great example of the disconnect in people’s idea of AFP. Does joining a Facebook event have the same value as a verbal commitment to attend an event? If you join a Facebook event and then can’t actually make it, are you obliged to change your online response to a no? If you don’t change your response and you don’t go, are you flaking? And are all these rules different depending on the event itself (size, location, host)?

idk (shrug)

Then there’s the whole issue of the flaking time frame. How long before an event or commitment should you give notice that you can’t make it? Does AFP suggest 24 hours, an hour, 5 minutes? Again, does it depend where you’re going and who you’re with?

The question isn’t why we’re flaking – we all know why.

cancelling plans

The question is how technology will change our communication patterns, and how we’ll have to create new social rules to deal with the changes.

For now, I’m left waiting for a universally recognized AFP.

Going beyond male and female

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After encountering backlash last year over their profile naming policy, Facebook has made a move to improve relations with the LGBTQ community by amending their gender options.

Previously, Facebook only offered two gender options for their users to self-identify as (male or female). Now the site includes a custom gender option, which encompasses over 50 gender identities for users to choose from, including gender fluid, gender nonconforming, agender, intersex, a number of different trans identities, and more.

Furthermore, Facebook is making an effort to respect the gender you identify with by also asking you to select the pronouns Facebook will use to refer to you (ie “him,” “her,” or gender-neutral “them”).

genders

This feels like a long-cry from Facebook’s disregard of the Trans community with their “real name” policy last year. (Long story short, Facebook blocked several users from their accounts because they weren’t using their legal names. This quickly became an issue for trans people whose Facebook accounts were under a name they had chosen for themselves rather than the one that was on their birth certificate. Facebook eventually apologized for the issues the policy created.)

I think the custom gender option is a good move on Facebook’s part. Not only does it create a more inclusive and understanding environment – that is, in as much as Facebook itself can create that space with its procedures – it sets a positive example for other social media sites to begin doing the same.  To my knowledge, other popular social media sites only offer the traditional male/female gender options for users to select on their profiles. Even more, I’ve noticed that often times selecting male or female is not just an option when creating an online account – it’s required. Many spaces online will not allow you to create an account without identifying as male or female, which can feel limiting and even distressing to people who do not identify as either.

The unfortunate fact of life (and the internet) is that I can see everyone isn’t as happy about this development as I am. I tried to read some online comments on the articles I read about Facebook’s changes and I instantly regretted it – as I pretty much always do when I read internet comments, so really, I should have known better. There’s clearly a lot of confusion about gender identity out there – in addition to rampant transphobia – which is disturbing to read. I hope that with steps like Facebook’s custom gender option we can start to normalize other gender identities and become more accepting of others.

Glazed and offensive

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Did Krispy Kreme plan a benefit night for the KKK?

No, but a poorly-named promotion for one of their events had a lot of people questioning the company: an advertisement for a week’s worth of special events at a Krispy Kreme store in Hull, England listed February 18th as “KKK Wednesday.”

The acronym was meant to stand for “Krispy Kreme Klub,” a donut decorating activity planned for children during half-term, a week-long break from school for kids in the UK. Unfortunately, this was not made clear to customers, who began questioning why the donut makers were promoting an infamous hate group.

Krispy Kreme Klub

The promotion was posted on the Krispy Kreme UK’s Facebook page, where Facebook users began pointing out the unfortunate acronym. The post was removed this morning after the public backlash. A company spokesperson for Krispy Kreme called the ordeal a “completely unintentional oversight.”

To be fair, the KKK is an American hate group, and the questionable promotions took place in the UK. Still, the Klu Klux Klan is pretty well-known (and likely has subsets in England as well), which makes me inclined to say Krispy Kreme should have spotted this promotional faux pas from a mile away. I would go so far as to say if my company name was already 2 out of 3 K’s into being offensive, I would be actively avoiding any other “K” words. Clearly, Krispy Kreme is not in the same mindset.

Lesson to us all: double-check those acronyms. Don’t accidentally endorse the KKK.

Love in the time of Facebook

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Singles’ Awareness Day

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day to all!

Single, desperate, and addicted to Facebook? I have good news for you! Facebook now has a matchmaking service to help their single members find love.

Lovebook is actually a marketing service created by CJ James that intends to help Facebook users get dates by creating targeted Facebook ads. You select a package (First Date, Lovebug, or Casanova) based on how many responses you want to receive, submit some photos, select your interests, pay the man, and BAM! You’re on someone’s sidebar asking for a date. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Lovebook:

The Good

Facebook has a lot of users.

There are approximately 1.2 billion people on Facebook, which means a lot of potential partners if you’re in the dating market. It’s also a significantly higher number than the membership of other dating sites (Plenty of Fish has about 76 million members, and Match.com has about 22 million).

Facebook is cheaper to use.

Your initial Facebook account is free, and the cost of the dating feature starts at just $15. That’s half the price of a Match.com account ($30) or a Plenty of Fish account ($35).

Facebook targets interests.

Your dating ad will be seen by people who like the same things on Facebook that you do – TV shows, celebrities, sports teams – which means you’ll have something in common with the person right off the bat.

Facebook guarantees results for your money.

Each package level guarantees a certain number of “leads” (page likes or direct messages) before the ad will stop running. The cheapest package, First Date, guarantees a minimum of five leads. The next level, Lovebug, includes dating advice to “attract a wider pool of respondents” in addition to an increased lead minimum. Finally, the top Casanova package includes everything from the other two levels, plus a 10-minute prep talk before a first date.

The Bad

Facebook has a lot of users.

Sure, 1.2 billion members sounds like a plenty big enough number, but logistically that’s not the same as 1.2 billion potential dates. After you narrow the category “Facebook user” down to “single, looking to date, living within a reasonable distance from me and within an acceptable age range” Facebook user, that number has to be a lot lower.

There are other (free) dating sites.

There are a TON of dating sites, and many of them can be used just by creating a free account. There’s also newer and more up-to-date dating apps like Tinder.

You don’t need Lovebook to create your own personal ad.

Technically you could buy your own ad space and do all of the work yourself, cutting out the middleman James.

The Ugly

It’s a Facebook ad.

I repeat: IT’S A FACEBOOK AD. Do you click Facebook ads? Ever? Do you even read them? Would you be inclined to date someone you saw in an ad? Would you even think they were a real person? No, no, no, no, no. Personally, if I happened to notice a Facebook ad for someone looking for a date, I would find it kind of sad and desperate at best, and hella creepy at worst. Right now accepting a date from a Facebook ad would be my second-to-least-likely approach to dating, losing out only to receiving a personal letter from a prison inmate.

Clearly, I’m not planning on using Lovebook anytime soon, although I have to give credit where credit is due: James is really just conducting a series of strategic online marketing campaigns, all in the name of love. You pay him to create your personal brand and make it appealing to others; he finds you potential dates and teaches you a little about the dating world.

James is basically the new Hitch.

Stop generalizing millennials in social media marketing

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I recently read this teenager’s post about social media sites, which reflected on how he believed his generation feels about the various social media platforms currently on the market. After a class discussion today, I realized my biggest issue with the article (besides some presumably unintentional privilege issues) is this “millennials” generalization that all young people react to social media the same way.

In reality, there is a HUGE difference between social media users in every age group. The difference of just a few years can drastically change one’s social media habits; I offer up myself and my younger sister as examples of this fact.

My sister is in her late teens, just four years younger than myself. I recently asked her if she was going to get a Facebook account. She scrunched up her nose in a classic “ew” face and said,

“I’m not getting a Facebook. Facebook’s for old people.”

Of course, I have a Facebook account – and don’t consider myself “old” –  so I was like:

cryptkeeper

She went on to say that hardly any of her friends were on Facebook, and that her most used social media apps by far were Snapchat and Kik. (I might as well go ahead and admit that I had to ask what Kik was, so maybe I really am old.)

This chat with my sister demonstrated to me the complicated relationship between social media and two of its influencing factors: brand perception and demand for services.

Let’s go back to Facebook to examine fb messengerthis further. Most people my age that I come in contact with have Facebook accounts. Furthermore, most people I know continue to use the messaging feature on Facebook, even if they rarely post content to their profiles. We have a need for an instant messaging service, and Facebook provides it. Many choose to use Facebook’s messaging system over another option like Kik because we already have an established network of people we want to contact on the site. We’re accustomed to Facebook and it is meeting our demand for messaging services, so we keep using it, even if we see newer social media platforms as “cooler” or more useful for other things.kik

On the other hand, it makes sense that my sister and her friends would be partial to the messaging app Kik if they shun Facebook so vehemently. They still demand an IM service, but without a pre-established network and sense of brand loyalty (or laziness, depending on your viewpoint) to another site, they found their own app somewhere else. Facebook was deemed “uncool,” which allowed Kik to enter the scene and take over that particular target market.

This is why my advice to anyone trying to start up a new social media site or app would be to consciously evaluate a precise target age range based on that group’s current brand perceptions and needs. All young people are not looking for the same things, nor do we feel the same way about all types of social media. I believe a better age-tailored campaign for new social media options could truly change how receptive we are to new social media platforms.

“Millennials” just isn’t a narrow enough audience anymore.