NASW Annual Meeting October 17, 2009 Austin, Texas David Harris Symmetry magazine, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory The Secret Life of Social Media
Outline Principles of social media Why understand how social media works? New ways people get/share information How we can use this knowledge How social media really works Examples of social sharing sites
Why understand social media? As science writers, our trade is information Information is increasingly flowing in new ways We all need to really know how these mechanisms work if we are to take advantage of them (whether journalists, writers, or PIOs) It gives us new ways to think about what we do
Getting information: the old way Read/watch the standard sources (local/national newspaper/TV news/magazines) Discuss those topics with friends and colleagues, relying on commonality of sources (Water cooler conversations, pub conversations) Repeat
Getting information: the new way “If the news is that important, it will find me.” – Anonymous college student in a focus groupNew York Times, March 27, 2008http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/us/politics/27voters.html “This micro-knowledge of others has been termed ‘ambient awareness’ by sociologists, a new kind of social proprioception or ethereal limb, and I learned to flex it with ease.” (Referring to the world of Facebook status updates)New York Magazine, April 5, 2009 http://nymag.com/news/features/55878/
Getting information: the new way Converse with your friends and colleagues, A LOT!(in person, phone, email, txt msg, Facebook status, FriendFeed, tweet, LinkedIn update, etc.) Let your trust of others guide you Pick up on some of it and surf/search it further Contribute to public discussions Repeat This is not an ideal, but an observation.
How we can use this knowledge Changing information ecosystem Old: Authority relationships New: Trust relationships Journalists: We can’t rely solely on the authoritativeness of our publications. Now we need to develop trust relationships with readers. How? PIOs: We no longer just want to rely on the news media to reach audiences for us, but need to be active in developing relationships with other audiences ourselves. How?
Examples of social sharing sites Many user-vote-driven sites seem to present the “best” stories, which rise to the top as people vote for them. For digg, slashdot, reddit, stumbleupon, and facebook What the site looks like How stories really get to the top of the charts A typical story’s traffic An analogy
digg is like…a gang Strong but organic hierarchy Dominance of an idea depends on who it comes from Leaders cultivate support from underlings by offering links and help up rankings Loyalty to the leader is key Identity is defined by the role in the group For success: Be in with the leaders, don’t cross the leaders
slashdot is like…organized crime Small tight group controls the flow of information Outsiders are treated with some suspicion Once you’re part of the family and know the people behind the curtain, you can get things done /.’s “karma” system compared with OC status Leaders still have absolute power For success: Post good stuff to gain positive attention of the admins, cultivate their good graces
reddit is like…an ADHD direct democracy Any idea can get to the top BUT... Many people need to respond positively to an idea rapidly or it will be forgotten For success: Post things lots of people will like and can easily see the appeal of from the headline
stumbleupon is like…a book club Ideas don’t need to be fresh Topics keep coming back for attention/discussion Demographic trends older and female People rate quality after reflection on the work For success: High quality content
facebook traffic Occurs too rapidly to show day by day Most in the first few minutes/hours, some residual over following days Adds a steady amount of traffic to our site Twitter is similar Facebook+twitter send about 15% of traffic
facebook is like…a clique Information circulates within peer groups Information can spread to other groups through overlap, and ideas can revive and seem new again For success: Have lots of friends and know what they like
Conclusion Social media both drives and reflects a changing information ecosystem—it has new rules Things are not always what they seem, so dig(g) a little deeper and never trust what anybody says about social media (not even me) If you’re not playing the game enough to know the rules, you’re not going win in the future