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Social Media: being a user doesn’t mean you are a good practitioner

Two case studies outline the difference between a seasoned practitioner and a digital manager who fumbled a crisis, and these situations point out that social media is far more complex than tweeting, and hiring for a social media position is even more complicated.



Businesses getting in on the trend

Even in a down economy, there are still growth areas in the job market. Some are obvious (unfortunately, like repo guys), but others may not seem so obvious, like those in the social media sector.

Our economy transitioned to a service-based market some time ago, but what some people may not realize is that the explosion of social media properties as communications platforms has “jumped the shark” from individuals to businesses. Business usually follows individuals in the use of social media, but they are catching up. Increasingly, business people are saying “I want some of that.” And by “that,” they meant traffic, awareness and exposure for their company, services or products.

Social Media Help Wanted

Your potential employers are creating jobs for you to fill. Seventy one percent of companies use Facebook, 59 percent use Twitter, 50 percent use blogs, 33 percent use YouTube, 33 percent use message boards and six percent use MySpace (which has fallen off the social media radar). Plus, an anticipated 43 percent of companies will employ a corporate blog in 2012.

Employers who are adopting these tools will need people not only to help them manage these efforts properly, but to use them to achieve communications or marketing objectives. They need seasoned advice from people who understand how social media impacts communications.

Calling All Grown Ups

Along with the desire of businesses to use social media for public relations, public affairs or most likely, marketing, it has created a parallel need for grown-ups: people who not only are familiar with the platforms, but also know enough about them to offer expert counsel to internal (within companies) or external clients (in an agency). In short, it’s one thing to know how to use Facebook, but how do you give advice on how a major brand can carry out B2B (business to business) communication?  It’s not just about status updates and Farmville. If you want to have a successful career as a social media consultant, you need to first be a solid communicator and second, know enough to understand how Facebook would be a good addition to an existing marketing plan or communications mix – including crisis communications.

The Good and the Bad

When people say to me “I have good news, and I have bad news,” I always ask for the bad news first.  I have two examples of how the use of social media both and hurt and helped major corporations. Let’s look at the bad example first.

The bad: Nestle

In March of 2012, Greenpeace turned up the social media heat on Nestle, a global candy manufacturer. It was a campaign against Nestle regarding the company’s use of palm oil in their products (background here in a CNET article). In a concerted effort, thousands of Greenpeace supporters began posting on the company’s Facebook page – over a weekend, when it was likely that an adult was not in charge. Greenpeace urged their supporters to change their profile pictures to something anti-Nestle and top it off with an anti-Nestle comment, posted to the Nestle Facebook wall. Whomever was in charge of the page that weekend did about the worst thing that you can do in that situation. He or she began deleting negative comments and engaged in back-and-forth snark that was, predictably, captured in screen shots by Nestle supporters who then accused the company of censorship. Sample responses from a Nestle rep included responses like “Oh please…it’s like we’re censoring everything to allow only positive comments” didn’t calm things down.

The end result? By putting someone in charge of the Nestle Facebook page over a weekend who didn’t have a clue about crisis communications, they brought a whole lot of publicity a) to Greenpeace’s campaign, and b) unwanted attention to their own company.

The good: JetBlue

In 2011, because of a snowstorm, a JetBlue plane was diverted from Newark to Hartford, Connecticut and sat on the tarmac for over seven hours as the pilots begged airport officials to find a way to get the plane towed to a gate so the passengers could get off. Seven hours. Following the precedent set in 2007 by the JetBlue Chief operating officer founder and CEO David Neeleman when he publicly apologized for another mishap via YouTube, company Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster apologized via YouTube to the carrier’s customers after hundreds of passengers were stranded on six planes for several hours during a another weekend snowstorm.

Whomever was providing social media advice to JetBlue senior management “got it.”  It’s one thing to offer an apology is a press release, but by offering a senior executive – his face, his voice and his words via YouTube – both crises died down fairly quickly. JetBlue provides good examples of how using social media quickly and effectively can help diffuse a crisis.

The bottom line

The bottom line? The explosion of social media as a business tool is creating job opportunities for seasoned professionals. But being an avid user does not mean that you are ready to start giving online communications advice on a very big stage.

Mark Story is the Director of New Media for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC. He has worked in the social media space for more than 15 years for global public relations firms, most recently, Fleishman-Hillard. Mark has also served as adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. Mark is currently writing a book, "Starting a Career in Social Media" due to be published in 2012.

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  1. Steve Veltkamp

    March 6, 2012 at 11:49 am

    The two incidents are not relevant to each other. In one case there was a dedicated and coordinated campaign against a company who did nothing wrong. In the other was a clear reason for a CEO to apologize to a small group of people who were inconvenienced. It would be more helpful to discuss what a company should do when under large attack by social media special interest group.

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Social Media

Instagram for Kids: Do kids really need social media that young?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Instagram for Kids is a terrible idea that we’ll have to contend in the not-so-distant future as social media becomes more prevalent in our lives.



Young girl playing phone, exploring Instagram for Kids

As a Facebook company, Instagram is used to pushing the envelope, and not always in a good way. One of their most recent initiatives, dubbed “Instagram for Kids”, offers pre-teens the opportunity to use a parent-controlled Instagram version—but global criticism is already mounting.

Instagram has a 13-and-up policy that restricts pre-teen kids from signing up for the app (in theory), but Instagram for Kids would allow younger users to share and interact with photos without the pressure of ads and inappropriate content (again, in theory). The goal behind a social media app for 12-and-unders is curious, given that acceptable teen social media use already starts at, arguably, a younger age than is responsible.

According to Instagram, though, their motivation for the app is simply to reduce access to harmful aspects of the web without instilling FOMO in younger children: “Kids are already online, and want to connect with their family and friends, have fun, and learn. We want to help them do that in a safe and age-appropriate way, and find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps.”

Instagram also promises to “consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform [the app experience].”

That’s all fine in—and I cannot stress this enough—theory, but several members of the original internal discussion about this version of Instagram acknowledged that existing Instagram users who are under the age of 13 probably won’t switch over to the new platform, making Instagram for Kids obsolete for any illicit users. That leaves only one conclusion: That Instagram for Kids is for a substantially younger audience.

It’s difficult to find a morally upright justification for creating a social media app for, say, 8-year-olds. Parent control or not, the potential for data collection, early technology addiction, and breaches of privacy is very real. Add to that the fact that the children who are likely targeted by this app can’t exactly give informed consent for their information to be shared (not that 13-year-olds can, either, but that’s a different thing), and it starts to look pretty shady.

Instagram is already tangentially responsible for things like false marketing, eating disorders, and mental health decline in otherwise healthy adults. Adding pre-teens to that list is not only irresponsible—it’s morally bankrupt. Please keep your kids off of apps like this.

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Social Media

Reels: Why Instagram can’t compete with TikTok… yet?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The future for Instagram Reels is uncertain, since even Instagram has acknowledge that TikTok is far ahead of them, but what does it mean for their future?



Phone camera on stand in foreground with two women filming for TikTok or Instagram reels in the background

If you’re a TikTok user, chances are you’ve scoffed at Instagram’s attempt to compete with the hype. Yes, I’m referring to the Reels feature.

In an attempt to step in and absorb all the TikTok user run-off in August, when Trump announced the TikTok ban, Instagram launched Reels. Short, catchy and sharable clips, Reels are almost exactly like TikTok videos – but are they catching on?

In an interview with The Verge’s “Decoder” podcast, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri says that he isn’t yet happy with Reels, stating that TikTok is still “way ahead”. While Reels is growing in terms of shared content and consumed content, it’s not nearly where Instagram hoped it would be by this point. Perhaps this is because TikTok is still alive and well. Or perhaps there’s something else to it.

It’s interesting to note that some of the most popular Reels on Instagram are simply reposted TikToks. This poses the question: Is Instagram’s Reels simply a channel where the ‘cream of the crop’ TikTok videos can get posted in a second location and exposed to a new audience, or is it actually a platform for creators?

Mosseri also hints at some sort of consolidation across Instagram’s video features (i.e., IGTV, in-post videos, Reels). Without being entirely sure what that will look like, I’m already skeptical – is this all just another example of Facebook (via Instagram) trying to hold a monopoly on the social media sphere?

My opinion? As long as TikTok is still in operation, it will reign supreme. While the two apps have a ton of overlap, they are simply different cultural spaces. TikTok is a trend-heavy, meta-humor creative space that relies on engagement between users through effect, duets, and other TikTok-exclusive features.

Adversely, Reels is a space for Instagramming millennials and Gen Xers who might be choosing to opt out of TikTok (which has sort of become the cultural epicenter for the younger Gen Zers). The feature might also be used by Insta influencers and creators of all ages who toggle between the two apps (i.e., reposting your viral TikTok on Instagram to gain more traction).

Whatever the reason is for engaging in Reels, I’m fully certain the feature will never amount to the success of TikTok – but I guess we’ll have to wait to see what Instagram has in store for us next.

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Social Media

How this influencer gained 26k followers during the pandemic

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Becoming an influencer on social media can seem appealing, but it’s not easy. Check out this influencer’s journey and her rise during the pandemic.



Influencer planning her social media posts.

Meet Carey McDermott – a 28-year-old Boston native – more widely known by her Instagram handle @subjectively_hot. Within a few months, since March, McDermott has accrued a whopping 26k following, and has successfully built her brand around activism, cheeky observations of day-to-day bullshit, and her evident hotness.

“It mostly started as a quarantine project.” Said McDermott, who was furloughed from her job at the start of shelter-in-place. “I had a lot of free time and I wanted to do an Instagram for a while so I thought, ‘I might as well take some pictures of myself.’”

To get started McDermott, used a lot of hashtags relevant to her particular niche to get noticed, and would follow other influencers that used similar hashtags.

“I definitely built a little online community of women, and we all still talk to each other a lot.”

Like many popular influencers, McDermott engages with her audience as much as possible. She is sure to like or reply to positive comments on her pictures, which makes followers feel special and seen, and subsequently more likely to follow and continue following her account. She also relies heavily on some of Instagram’s more interactive features.

When asked why she thinks she has been able to build and retain such a large base in just a few months, McDermott explained: “I think people like my [Instagram] Stories because I do a lot of polls and ask fun questions for people to answer, and then I repost them”.

But it’s not just fun and games for @subjectively_hot – Carey wants to use her account to make some substantial bread.

“I’ve gotten a bunch of products gifted to me in exchange for unpaid ads and I’m hoping to expand that so I can get paid ads and sponsorships. But free products are nice!”

Additionally, McDermott was recently signed with the talent agency the btwn – a monumental achievement which she attributes to her influencer status.

“Having a large Instagram following gave me the confidence to reach out to a modeling brand. After they looked at my Instagram, they signed me without asking for any other pictures.”

To aspiring influencers, McDermott offers this advice:

“Find your niche. Find your brand. Find what makes you unique and be yourself – don’t act like what you think an influencer should act like. People respond to you being authentic and sharing your real life. And definitely find other people in similar niches as you and build connections with them.”

But McDermott also warns against diving too unilaterally into your niche, and stresses the importance of a unique, multi-dimensional online persona.

“[@subjectively_hot] is inherently a plus size account. But a lot of plus size Instagrams are just about being plus size, and are only like, “I’m confident and here’s my body”. I don’t want to post only about body positively all day, I want it to be about me and being hot.”

And you definitely can’t paint this girl in broad strokes. I personally find her online personality hilarious, self-aware, and brutally anti-patriarchal (she explicitly caters to all walks of life minus the straight cis men who, to her dismay, frequent her DMs with unsolicited advice, comments, and pictures). Her meme and TikTok curations are typically some of the silliest, most honest content I see that day and, as her handle suggests, her pictures never fail in their hotness value.

For McDermott, right now is about enjoying her newfound COVID-era celebrityhood. Her next steps for @subjectively_hot include getting paid ads and sponsorships, and figuring out the most effective way to monetize her brand. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases threaten her chances of returning to the place of her former employment in the hospitality industry.

With so many influencers on Instagram and other platforms, some might find it hard to cash in on their internet fame. But with a loyal fanbase addicted to her golden, inspiring personality, I think Carey will do just fine.

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