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.

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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.

The threat of #thinspiration

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This week my Tumblr dash was abuzz with complaints over a brief tweet posted by actress Angie Harmon (Rizzoli & Isles, Women’s Murder Club).

angie harmon thinspiration

The aspect of contention among viewers was the hashtag “thinspiration.” I hadn’t heard of this hashtag before, so I decided to do some research to figure out what exactly people were so upset about.

It turns out #thinspiration tracks its origins to a series of diet and exercise tips from the “pro-ana” (also referred to as “my friend Ana”) movement. The tips include extreme weight loss measures like excessive exercise and drastic reductions in food intake – because “pro-ana” is derived from “pro-anorexia.”

There are a huge number of websites and blogs devoted to pro-ana, in addition to regular posts on social media sites using hashtags like #thinspiration. One such blog offers tips like “dance after every meal until you feel absolutely fatigued,” “exercise until you feel completely exhausted,” and “pick up additional workloads” to help keep yourself too busy to eat. The same blog additionally recommends attitude and lifestyle changes like “think only of thin people” and “make thin friends.”

Another pro-ana blog offers up a series of diet plans, including the “Paris Hilton” diet (consuming a daily total of 81 calories) as well as the “Five Bite” diet (consuming five bites of food at each meal) – which the blogger suggested reducing to three bites.

Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders, explained:

“Instead of looking at eating disorder habits as a pathology, thinspiration treats them as a lifestyle choice.”

These sites use #thinspiration to share pro-ana diet and exercise tips, as well as photos of women they consider to be ideally thin. I won’t post the pictures that accompanied many of these sites and blogs, but suffice it to say many of the “ideal” bodies being portrayed looked more like skeletons than human women.

Eating disorders have been around for a long time, but the internet has made perpetuating them an easier task than ever.

As Dr. Maine puts it,

“Eating disorders have always been a competitive sport, but social media just increases the number of people you are competing with.”

Young girls who used to only be able to compare their bodies to their peers now have easy access to millions of too-thin and otherwise unhealthy body images online – millions of images they “fail” to compare to, and will strive to emulate no matter the cost.

Furthermore, #thinspiration and pro-ana blogs create greater challenges for people trying to overcome eating disorders – not only do they have to modify their personal health habits and overcome the mentality of the disease, but they have to modify their internet usage habits as well.

I doubt Angie Harmon meant to be offensive when she tweeted using #thinspiration. (It was a picture of a BBQ restaurant, and I’m left assuming she meant it as a joke.) Still, the #thinspiration culture has brought young girls to the edge of death before, and probably will continue to do so in the future. #Thinspiration is a reminder of the dangers of eating disorders and the power of internet communications in our world – so remember to tweet responsibly.

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.

Sling ‘Slingshot’ back where it came from

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So I’m casually browsing my Facebook feed today when I see an ad for Slingshot, a new social media app. The first line of the post promises an experience that is comparable to “Snapchat, with a twist!” I don’t particularly care for Snapchat myself (that’s a post for another time) but I do recognize that it is pretty popular with other people. The popularity of Snapchat and my curiosity as to what kind of “twist” you can put on sending pictures encouraged me to read on…and the next line is where I lost it.

“Your friends can’t see what you sent until they send something back!”

slingshot

I had to read that a couple of times because I was sure I had to be misunderstanding something somehow. “Your friends can’t see what you sent until they send something back.” Excuse me?

Here’s how I picture this Slingshot thing going down:

Person A: *slings a photo he wants to share*

Person B: *gets notification that she has a photo*

Person B: *can’t view photo*

Person B: *slings back random photo of nearest object so she can open the photo sent to her*

Person A: *receives response photo of random object but can’t open it*

Person A: *slings back a photo of his own random object so he can view the reaction photo of her random object*

Person B: *finally opens first photo*

Person B: *gets notification of another photo – the random object reaction sent to view the random object reaction sent to view the original photo*

I can’t even complete a full cycle of this. The tedium of writing that out is too much; I can’t imagine living it. In what world would it be useful to send a response to something you haven’t seen yet? And similarly, in what world would it be useful to receive a response that has nothing to do with what you sent? You didn’t ask for it, it’s not relevant to the message you were trying to convey…Slingshot is basically just opting to receive junk mail from your friends.

After researching Slingshot, I discovered it is a Facebook creation. I can see the business appeal of the app. If Facebook can get people to buy into this Slingshot nonsense, you can see how it would be easy to make money. The whole “response before you know what you are even responding to” deal means if one person slings one picture, it starts a cycle of slinging back and forth before the intended “conversation” can be completed (as I demonstrated above); the nature of the Slingshot app fosters increased usage. Assuming the audience doesn’t lose its patience, that is.

With the rise of the digital age, there have been countless arguments that social media culture hinders social skills, damages interpersonal communication, and is making us generally less intelligent. I have never personally bought into these types of arguments much, but if Slingshot represents the future of digital communication, they might actually be right. I definitely see this weird Slingshot method as breaking down traditional communication – and not in a good way. You won’t catch me slinging photos anytime soon.