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Of Ice Buckets and Virality

Of Ice Buckets and Virality

You have to be on another planet (or, offline) to not know about this. It has, most likely, been covered in the mainstream offline media by now (I don’t watch a lot of television, and I have not yet seen it in newspapers, but that does not mean it is not coming).

I am, of course, talking about the terrifically inventive charitable idea du jour –  The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Background

Virality
English: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis MRI (parasagittal FLAIR) demonstrates increased T2 signal within the posterior part of the internal capsule and can be tracked to the subcortical white matter of the motor cortex, outlining the corticospinal tract), consistent with the clinical diagnosis of ALS. source:Radiopedia.org and case (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 31st of 2014, Pete Frates, who has ALS, challenged some celebrities, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, to what would become known as the ice bucket challenge. The challenge already existed, per the linked article, but the concept did not begin to gain viral social media traction until July 31st .

The premise is simple – either donate $100 to ALS research or douse yourself with ice water. You’ve got 24 hours and, once you’ve done either (or both), challenge at least three more people. The idea spread virally. A lot of people were pleased to see something other than Gaza and Ferguson in their news feeds.

ALS

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a serious medical condition for which there is no known cure. It is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Complicating matters is the fact that there are only about 30,000 or so people in the United States who are known to have it. Hence big drug manufacturers aren’t pursuing cures, as such cures and research are not profitable enough. It is essentially an orphaned disease.

But let’s get back to the challenge.

Purpose of the Challenge

I can come up with five purposes, and probably three (maybe four) of them were not the original ones.

  1. Raise money for ALS research
  2. Boost awareness of the disease
  3. Lean on drug companies to pressure them to work on developing a cure
  4. Lean on politicians to push them to pressure drug companies or perhaps pass laws subsidizing or otherwise encouraging research into orphan diseases
  5. Hire a celebrity spokesperson (or more than one) to advocate for the victims of the disease

The challenge performs the first two tasks perfectly. Either you pony up the funds or you get soaked – and that’s all done on camera and is uploaded to social media. Most people reveal their choice on Facebook, which has over 1.4 billion users. The last three purposes are the kinds of things that this sort of attention can be used for. I do hope the big folks in ALS research don’t squander this opportunity, and try for all three.

Why is it Viral?

The challenge hits about every mark when it comes to virality. Here are some reasons.

  1. It has a strong visual and auditory appeal. The dousing, the screaming, or even smug people signing checks and getting doused anyway – don’t underestimate how much humor there is in seeing someone getting their (allegedly deserved) comeuppance.
  2. Humor is one component to virality, or at least it is one of the elements that is somewhat more likely to be present when any piece of media goes viral. By definition, the flipping of super-chilled water onto anyone’s head is going to be funny.

More Reasons

  1. Another component that is often present in viral media is uplifting images, text, and actions. This is why Upworthy does as well as it does. When people write a check instead of dump water, they hit this mark instead. Either way, if they speak a bit about ALS, they also hit this mark.
  2. Timing – initiating the challenge in January would not have worked as well. While people have been answering polar bear-style challenges for years, if you want to go viral, you want the majority to participate, or at least believe that they might want to participate. Selecting the month of August was brilliant, as this is either the warmest or second-warmest month in most years in the Northern Hemisphere. That is, the hemisphere where people are, in general, more likely to be wealthy and more likely to be online. In short, these were the people most likely to either participate in the challenge or at least watch videos of it and read articles (like this one!) about it.

Yet More Reasons

  1. The second piece of timing is how it came when so many people had seen a lot about Gaza and Ferguson, as I stated previously. For many, the challenge was a welcome bit of good news in an otherwise dreary Dog Days of Summer media landscape.
  2. There is an element of daring in it but, except for the elderly (Sir Ian McKellan notwithstanding) and the gravely ill, it’s not really dangerous. But do watch out for slippery floors. Yes, there are already blooper videos out there (many of them are NSFW; Google is your friend if you’re interested in such things).
  3. Virality is baked right into it. One aspect of the challenge is to call out at least three other people and challenge them. Furthermore, they have 24 hours to respond either way. Hence you have added three more names. However, the names begin to repeat after a while. So the trebling of participants slows down, eventually shrinking a lot closer to a doubling of participants. The duplication of names also happens because most people run in somewhat small circles and share neighbors, friends, family members, etc. The 24 hour time limit plays very well into most people’s demands for more and more and different entertainment to consume, on daily, hourly, or even minute by minute basis.

Still More Reasons

  1. Social media has shaped a lot of our behaviors, and the ice bucket challenge plays nicely into how ordinary people are finding out that they are now entertainers online. They have followers, and they are beginning to understand that they need to provide content for their followers. As a result, so many people are obsessed with taking selfies, or Instagramming everything they eat or wear. Because they know they need to provide content, but they’re stumped as to what to provide! The challenge provides a perfect prompt.
  2. The involvement of celebrities added a cool factor. The involvement of all sorts politicians on the political spectrum allowed a way for political rivals to talk to each other. After all, who could be against trying to defeat a horrible disease?

The challenge has even spawned parodies and copycats. There’s the rice bucket challenge in India, the rubble bucket challenge in Gaza, and the Orlando Jones bullet bucket challenge. It’s a helluva clever campaign, and deserves all the props it’s been getting.

Upshot

Amusing and upbeat, the challenge has, as of the writing of this blog post, raised over $50 million for research. Please give generously and, in the meantime, enjoy Bill Gates getting drenched.

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Online Advertising: Facebook Ads vs. Google AdWords vs. LinkedIn

Online Advertising: Facebook Ads vs. Google AdWords vs. LinkedIn

Social Media Today recently compared these three types of online advertising, namely: Facebook Ads, Google AdWords, and LinkedIn.

Social Media Phobias
Social Media Phobias (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Google

Google’s ads have gotten more expensive, and their success often seems to be hit or miss. Wide geographic ranges can give dramatic numbers but few results – narrowing things down geographically seems to accompany a commensurate rise in click quality.  According to the article, Google advertising, “… works if you have a unique and popular product or service. The interface feels professional, with excellent reporting tools, great usability and many various options.”

Facebook

The Facebook advertising experience seemed to be the most satisfying to the writer of the article.  With a demographic and geographic focus (and fast service by Facebook support), ads could be created with near-pinpoint accuracy.  When speaking of Facebook, which is much more of a leisure time site than LinkedIn or Google is, the article stated, “(t)he secret is not to become too serious in your ads and keep them simple.”

LinkedIn

LinkedIn was seen as being great for ads intended to reach strictly professional audiences. However, the LinkedIn admin team took significantly longer to approve advertisements than their counterparts at Facebook and Google took.  The reporting was also rather restricted, only offering a CSV file for download.

I agree with the conclusions drawn in the article – Facebook was overall the best, Google would be helpful for targeted ads for specific, unique or well-known products, and LinkedIn lagged, big time. To my mind, this also dovetails well with these sites’ overall purposes. Facebook is seen as for socializing and so it seems to work with ads in the same way that we are used to be served television commercials. Google and LinkedIn have other purposes and so there is less of an expected marriage of content and online advertising.

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Companies to Pay $1M for Facebook Video Ads

Companies to Pay $1M for Facebook Video Ads

Facebook Video Ads. According to Boston.com,  companies interested in creating video advertisements on Facebook will need to not only pay about a million dollars per day, they will also have to pass Facebook’s creative team’s vetting.

If Facebook is going to blast a video ad to a significant subset of its 1.3 billion users on a daily basis, they want the ads to be artistically meritorious.  The Facebook video ads will automatically play, but they will do so without sound.

Metrics will be apparently available for advertisers (and they certainly should be there, for that kind of price tag!).

For that sort of exposure, the price tag may very well seem reasonable to a large corporation looking to make a splash. Consider the cost of Super Bowl advertisements. Bleacher Report claims that a 30 second spot in 2014 went for four million dollars.  However, only about 111 million people were expected to tune into the 2014 Super Bowl.

Facebook has over ten times as many users as the Super Bowl has viewers.  However, they would not all be served the same video ads. But this is not a problem.  Even assuming the same number of viewers as in the Super Bowl (which would be about eight and one-half percent of the total number of Facebook users), Facebook’s cost is still only one quarter of that for advertising a 30 second spot at the Super Bowl.

Is it worth it? Companies will need to carefully measure not only clickstream data, but they will (or at least they should be) closely monitoring conversions.

If your company had that kind of money, and that level of creativity, would YOU recommend video ads on Facebook?

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Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

With the end of my first Social Media class came a request for our overall impressions of how things went. Hence, I prepared Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522.

Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

My classmates and I were also tasked with showcasing what we felt was our best work.

I was so very pleased that I had a few works to choose from, but I narrowed my choices down in order to save some space.

My reflections essay included comments about the video and essay portions of Module #4, Module #9, Module #10, Module #11,  and my Final Project; that video is duplicated below.

Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).

The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #14 – Final Project ICM 522

Final Project ICM 522

These videos together comprised our final project for Quinnipiac’s Social Media Platforms class, ICM 522.

Final Project ICM 522

At this point in time, I have a short break before starting ICM 524, which is the Analytics class. I am taking it with the same instructor, Professor Eleanor Hong.

In the meantime, here are our project videos.

My partner, Kim Scroggins, went first. I would love it if you could take the time and watch her video, too. We were a true team and really enjoyed working together.

And now here’s my half of the presentation. One of the things that I made absolutely sure of doing was to thank my partner. This was absolutely a team effort and it would have turned out far differently if we had not gotten along as well as we did.

We went over our general experiences with J-Krak and the many social media platforms we tried. We made every effort, I feel, to engage our audience and garner buzz and attention for our ‘client’. We set ourselves up for a rather difficult task, which was to try to get a small measure of fame for a rock band that was not even online in any way, shape, or form when we first started this project.

MySpace was recalled as a failed experiment. Google+, for the most part, was a failed experiment in engagement, but it did help us with improving our search engine optimization efforts. Twitter and our blog were somewhat in the middle. Twitter worked out fairly well as we were able to join the overall conversation. However, the number of our followers remained fewer than the number of people we were following. The blog had an ever-increasing number of followers, but we received few comments. Our best social media platform? Spoiler alert – it was Facebook.

Thanks for watching! Next week, I’ll post my impressions of the class overall.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #11 – J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

My partner and I certainly never intended to create two separate new platform presences for our project. However, it turned out that way. We just didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter as our first choice took a spectacular nosedive.

J-Krak on MySpace

Oh, God. MySpace.  We tried. I swear, we tried. But it felt like a waste of time from the get-go.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

The board flashes and zips by, but there are nearly no instructions as to how to use it. Search is little help – you can locate people by city, gender, and music genre. And that’s it.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

I could not find (confirmed) professional DJs, but I could sure as hell find professional escort services.

Engagement was virtually nonexistent. And this wasn’t just true about a tiny outfit such as ours.  Britney Spears, God love her,  has a million and a half incoming connections but, since she doesn’t have to connect back, her outgoing connections list is considerably smaller. There are comments on her profile by fans, but she and her marketing team don’t seem to answer them.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information about the Britney Spears page on MySpace is that it seems to have last been updated last December. You know, five months ago.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

Hit Me Baby, One More Time?

Don’t you have to hit MySpace once, first?

Like the shiny wasteland that it is, Britney seems to be leaving MySpace in her rear view.

And so did we.

J-Krak on Google+

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

On Google+, it was easy to set up a band page and make it look good.

While we still need to add music, the look and feel of the page are already there.

Even better is the fact that posts can be scheduled in HootSuite, a capability that is missing from MySpace.

It’s too early to really get meaningful metrics, but we’re trying!

Stay tuned.

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Facebook Quinnipiac Site Development Social Media

Quinnipiac Assignment #9 – J-Krak Facebook Page

Quinnipiac Assignment #9 – J-Krak Facebook Page

logo

J-Krak Facebook Page

Once again, we did not have to create a video this week for Quinnipiac Assignment #9. Instead, my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I were required to create a Facebook page for our J-Krak fans community (which in our blog, we were referring to as KrakHeads). We decided to call the page J-Krak RI in order to better emphasize our intimate connection to the state of Rhode Island.

The Facebook page was designed with a standard Creative Commons background image of sheet music and our preexisting KrakHeads logo (Kim made it by combining a Creative Commons image of a vinyl record with lettering in a font that we selected together) was used as our logo and the avatar for the page itself. That avatar has since been replaced with an image of John Krakowski and John Cairo together (the avatar was replaced after our class was finished).

We were pleasantly surprised when we hit one hundred likes in about six and a half hours. Currently, the new page has 125 fans on Facebook.  We are very excited about this, and Kim and I feel that we have definitely found our platform!

Thank you for following! And party on!

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Stumbleupon Surpasses Facebook as the top source for Social Media traffic around the US

Well, well, well.

Perhaps there is something that the mighty Facebook doesn’t do quite so perfectly.

Not so fast. Stumbleupon’s raison d’etre is the passing of traffic. Facebook’s is not. And Stumbleupon is wonderfully designed to fill its one niche, and fill it admirably — to get traffic moving.

Facebook, on the other hand, continues to evolve as much more of a social site. Probably Facebook’s best and most important feature is one not even found, specifically, on the site. Rather, it’s your ability to log into other sites using your Facebook login. In this brilliant conception, the data from Facebook ends up applying to job search websites, blogs, ecommerce, etc. All those other sites have to do is partner with Facebook to use that login. And Facebook garners even more data. It’s a powerful combination.

Is it a violation of anti-trust laws? My guess is no, because you can log in through other means. Just because Facebook is providing a more convenient means of logging in does not mean that it’s monopolizing logins. Using the same logic, well, if a product captures 99% of any given market, it’s not a violation of anti-trust laws just because that product is better, cheaper, more efficient or can be purchased in a more convenient manner, so long as its existence as being a cheaper, better, etc. product does not come about through unfair/illegal means. The spirit and purpose of anti-trust legislation is, certainly, not intended to squelch good and proper competition. Success is not illegal.

So Facebook, despite being the huge elephant in the room, doesn’t necessarily capture and control every tidbit of the Social Media universe. And I think that’s how it should be. After all, a world only seen through a Facebook filter — much like a Friend Feed when you’ve only got one friend — would be rather dull indeed.

For more information, see the January 3, 2011 post on Soshable.