Facebook Star Ratings Create Cause for Concern

facebook starsIf you are in advertising and marketing, then you know that Facebook is constantly making changes to its site, pages and policies, and the company is not always perfectly transparent about these changes. You also know that within the past month star ratings on a scale of one to five have begun to appear prominently on business pages, right under the name of the business. Individual reviews and ratings also appear on the page, in the right-hand column for desktop and above page posts on the mobile app.

When these ratings first appeared, I saw several articles and blog posts talking about how these ratings could be good or bad. HubSpot argued both ways in an attempt to remain neutral, as did TechCrunch, while InvestmentNews tells advertisers they should be concerned. Business Insider says that the ratings will put Facebook in direct competition with Yelp and FourSquare.  Other sources, like Social Media Today raised the questions we should all be asking.

Although the Facebook star ratings are supposedly still in the “testing phase,” I see some major cause for concern as an advertiser if they continue with this rating system. Continue reading

The Power of Sandy

The weather is unpredictable. And yet we are constantly trying to predict it. But this is not news to anyone and I’m certainly not the first to say it.

But I’m sure people living in New York City never thought they’d get power outages and floods due to a hurricane. People further south are prepared for that sort of thing, but the Big Apple? People in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas- they have buildings built for tropical storms. They have hurricane walls and probably better home insurance plans or something. They have evacuation routes and supplies stored up. No one expected a hurricane like Sandy to hit so far north and cause this much damage to areas that are not prepared.

So what did they do? They told everyone to prepare for the worst storm in history, no matter where you live. They evacuated seaside towns in Delaware and New Jersey. They told Pennsylvanians to stock up on water, toilet paper, non-perishable food–enough for at least three days. They told everyone to freeze bags of ice to help keep food frozen after the power goes out. They cancelled schools and classes. They pushed back practices and games and banquets. They post-poned Halloween! (Who gets to make that executive decision?)

The restaurant where I work was all but deserted the night the storm was supposed to hit the Pittsburgh area the hardest. I had a few tables, but we shut down the kitchen early and sent everyone home before people got stranded. That night, as I plugged in my computer, my phone and my Nook, the lights flickered slightly and I went to bed fearing the worst would happen while I was asleep. I woke up expecting my clock to be wrong. It wasn’t. I thought maybe there’d be some trees down outside. There weren’t any. I didn’t even see a fallen branch. I drove to work prepared to turn the GPS on if my usual route was blocked or flooded. Nothing. It rained the whole day, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary.

People said that Sandy was over-hyped. They tweeted it and made it their status and complained as socially and publicly as they could. Maybe they were angry that someone told them to prepare for a storm and they actually listened? They wanted to blame someone else-for what? For NOT getting flooded? People find a reason to complain about anything these days. But put it this way– if those people hadn’t prepared for a storm, they would have lost their power for a week. And they would have complained even more.

So all these people sitting at home on Facebook with all their lights on and their computer plugged in, voicing their opinions that Sandy was way over-hyped and the news shouldn’t have made such a big deal about it–well they can take a nice trip to New York City or Atlantic City, New Jersey and see how that works out. They can do some real good and help out those people who DID lose their power. They can see streets that DID get flooded. Then maybe they’ll just thank their lucky stars that they live right in between the blizzards, the winds and the floods. They’ll stop complaining about reporters that are just doing their job, reporting what matters to the people who were affected by the storm.

The death toll in New York City has risen to 30 as of a few hours ago. People all along the east coast have been forced to leave their flooded homes with what little possessions they have left. Millions are still without power. Their lives have changed. To them, this storm was not over-hyped. They could never have prepared enough. They’re not even thinking of Halloween and trick-or-treating. They don’t have houses where they can trick-or-treat and I am one hundred percent positive that they would rather have a home.

So while I sit in my house with power, I’m not going to be the one complaining that the storm was over-hyped. I’m so thankful to be living exactly in between all of the devastation.

The east coast will be rebuilding for a long time, removing feet of sand from houses and pumping water from streets. And in the meantime all we can do is keep trying to predict the unpredictable.

Photo courtesy of http://www.washingtonpost.com

The Global Reality of a Media World

I read an opinion column today in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the state of the world discussed at Rio+20, in terms of carbon emissions, climate change, and sustainable development. The author, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and those at the United Nations Conference, call for an end to extreme poverty, less carbon emission from the energy system, slower population growth, sustainable food supplies, and protection of the environment. But those of you reading this, who probably have at least six other tabs open on your screen, switching from Facebook to Pinterest, updating Twitter on your phone, while texting your friend, are probably nodding your head in agreement, thinking yes, it’s probably a good idea to save the world, yet how many of you got up to turn a light off? How many of you have the TV on while you’re on your laptop, reading blogs and updating social media, obviously not even watching the TV? I admit, I have the TV on. I like having the Today Show on in the background of my morning and if something interesting stands out, I turn my attention to the television.

This is the reality of the world today. People are perpetually connected and plugged in and so immersed in their personal lives and the virtual lives of their friends. People would rather “pin” a link to their dream wedding dress and tell hundreds of Twitter users that the line in Starbucks today is incredibly long than shut off their technology and plant trees. I’m not saying that all people are like this, but this is our reality.

On the other hand, our reality is also high carbon emissions and global warming that eventually will destroy the planet. This is what scientists tell us, but so many people don’t believe it or don’t want to believe it. These claims seem extreme. People just aren’t motivated to look outside their own neighborhoods. We say we want what’s best for our children and no one can deny that. But our ability to look far ahead, hundreds or thousands of years is limited. We see the reality that is right now and right now the sun is shining, the grass is growing, the birds flit around the backyard. Right now the kids have enough to eat and go to great public schools. Right now, I can’t afford a new energy-efficient vehicle, but that’s okay because there’s enough gas in my car, and GetGo and Giant Eagle are helping me save a few cents at the pump. The concern about overpopulation, famine and disease in third world countries doesn’t hit home because, well, we can’t see them. All we see are the sad, slow-mo advertisements on TV telling us to donate just 25 cents a day, but everyone thinks those are over-exaggerated to draw a few more quarters from the crowd.

So what can be done?

If we can’t get everyone to agree on the current state, how can we possibly expect people to agree on the measures that must be taken?

So many people are calling for action from the younger generations. The recent college graduates, like myself, and the students. Treaties and “Sustainable Development Goals,” while great in theory, won’t work unless the information and the impact somehow resonates with the young, tech-savvy, Facebook-stalking, status-updating crowd. So how do we make it resonate? As a communication major, passionate about media, TV, video production, I am a firm believer that media can reach people in ways that newspaper articles and politicians can’t. The only problem is that even media may not always work. You might remember the KONY2012 video that almost instantly went viral with almost 1 billion viewers on YouTube. This video resonated with me and probably hundreds of thousands of others. But it did not resonate with everyone. The video was a big topic of discussion in my college media and politics class and it is up for debate why this video was such an instant hit and then almost just as quickly fell from the spotlight. I’m sure it motivated some people to buy the bracelets and post signs and this kind of enthusiasm is what we need to save the world, all the time. (But that’s another topic.)

So when you think about how to reach the audience, the young internet generation, a YouTube video might work. Or a Facebook page, or a Twitter account, or a blog post. A story on the 6 o’clock news might work, or the endorsement of pro athletes and celebrities. But really, it’s going to be all of that and more. The world won’t change just because someone writes a blog post, or a newspaper column. It won’t change if someone makes the most creative 30-minute YouTube video of the year. It won’t change if politicians put it to a vote. In Sachs’ article he writes, “Since politicians follow public opinion rather than lead it, it must be the public itself that demands its own survival, not elected officials who are somehow supposed to save us despite ourselves.” The public will only demand change if we all agree. The whole world needs to agree. We will only all agree if we are inundated with the information, if we are convinced through all outlets that this is the change we need to see.

We see evidence every day of technology becoming better and people wanting to use it. Take Apple. They could come out with a new, faster, better product every month (oh wait, they do…) and people buy it and use it and promote it. People want better things, they want to be on the edge of innovation. We wouldn’t have students majoring in engineering and science if this wasn’t true. We just need the motivation to convince the world that sustainability is what’s better. That energy-efficiency is what’s better. That everyone’s lives will be better if we all adopt this world-saving technology and practices. I hope that this blog post will add to the global conversation. Hopefully others will continue to flood all media with the facts and someday soon, maybe we’ll all agree.

Citizen Journalism and Social Media

This a blog post that I wrote for my Communications class a few weeks ago. The class, taught by Professor Lindsay Hoffman, was an introduction into analyzing how the media and politics work together to form what we know as “political communication.” Prof. Hoffman featured several students’ entries from our class on her blog for The Huffington Post.

Here is what I had to say about citizen journalism:

In this age of expanding internet and social media, more people are turning to online sources for their news. It’s faster, easier and more convenient when we are already perpetually connected. This also requires news outlets to produce news content at an unprecedented rate. News organizations are constantly competing to be the first to break a story, if not the only ones to do so, and it’s very convenient that Twitter’s “retweet” button allows for quick and vast dissemination of any piece of information. It is just this exact tool that also gets news outlets into trouble as we can see with the false breaking news that South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki Haley, would soon be indicted.

An article in the New York Times details how the unfounded information, posted on a small blog, called the Palmetto Public Record, went viral after just about twenty minutes. In the race to be first with information, the blog article was reposted by several news organizations, including major news outlets like the Washington Post. With tens of thousands of followers, the false information quickly spread across the nation and cyberspace. News organizations made corrections later, but the damage to Haley’s reputation was done.

We’ve discussed in class that multi-media is becoming more and more popular, especially online sources such as Twitter, where consumers can get news in 140 characters or less. This is especially appealing to the public as iPhone and iPad sales increase and computer screens are made even smaller. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook also allow for the public to feel that they are more a part of the news process by promoting “retweets” and “likes” so that friends and followers can stay up to date on the news as well.

The trend of this so-called “citizen journalism” becomes more popular with blogs and Twitter because we know that realistically, news correspondents and journalists can’t be everywhere, covering everything. We have come to rely on this citizen journalism to fill us in on the things that major news organizations miss and to fill the holes with on-the-scene footage and pictures. Major news channels and TV networks, like CNN and NBC ask the audience to send in photos of storms, for example, or if they “see news happening” to call the hotline. As a society, we have come to accept this and we trust the major news outlets to filter out the information and present what is real and true in an unbiased way. But this takes time and resources—things that journalists can’t afford if they want to stay on top and keep their ratings higher than anyone else’s. This is all part of the politics of the media. The ideal of the news is to report events objectively, but the reality is that news needs to appeal to the audience in order to get viewers and readers and to stay in business.

This leads us to stories such as Haley’s false indictment reports. News outlets and citizen bloggers are so anxious to get the news and spread the news—especially when it is scandalous and sensational, two things that make a story newsworthy—so the fact-checking and filtering stops. It is natural to say, next, that journalists are humans and as capable of making mistakes as anyone else. But the ease and speed of social media dissemination leads to grave errors, spread to tens of thousands of people. So where do we draw the line? Is citizen journalism only valuable to the public up to a point?

We recently discussed in class that the media have the ability to frame the way the public sees the story.  A story can be framed in many different ways, depending on the context and the word choice and language used. There is no story written that was not written with some kind of frame. This goes along with the notion of bias that we talked of earlier in the semester as well. Journalists are required to present the news objectively, without bias. But there is rarely a case where there isn’t at least a little bias. As we also said, there is no one “truth,” there is only the truth as we see it, and each person sees it differently. So who is to say that the way the citizen journalist sees a story or event, is worse or less truthful than the way the New York Times journalist may see the same event? This is what advocates of citizen journalism may say.

However, we also know that journalists at news organizations have been trained to check facts and examine all possible known sides of a story. Citizen journalists on the other hand, have not, and their blogging and tweeting therefore cannot and should not be evaluated on the same level.

We saw the detrimental effects of social media news dissemination when Joe Paterno’s death was falsely reported and reposted by and to millions on Twitter. The New York Times wrote an article afterwards explaining the mix-up and what followed as they tried to make sense of the power of social media.

Social media outlets allow for non-journalists to post and repost “news” or even just commentary and false information can go viral all too easily. While social media sites are admittedly a growing outlet for news, the information must be critically evaluated before it can be noted as “truth.” Many citizens do not have the knowledge to read news critically and to accurately make a judgment on its authenticity. Until all citizens can effectively evaluate information on social media sites themselves, there is no way that we can use Twitter and Facebook as effective tools for “citizen journalists.”