How to Beat Rush Hour Through Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing-a word that vies with “Engagement” for being the most overused and abused term in social media. In the case of Waze, however, the term is dead on.  Waze is a “community-based traffic and navigation app” available on both the Android and iOS operating systems that utilizes crowdsourcing technology to “outsmart traffic.” Simply open the app while you are driving and Waze will do the rest. Your car will appear as a little animated icon showing your average speed. You also have the option to update your fellow drivers on road conditions- everything from construction to a speed trap.

Waze also has a “community-edited maps” option.  When I first heard about this option, I must admit to a significant degree of skepticism. So many crowdsourcing apps have great ideas that just don’t catch on and the map-editing option seemed a bit too complex. Often the main issue is the lack of an offline component to allow individuals to meet face-to-face.  Turns out that Waze realized this as well! They host a series of “meet-ups” to introduce the map-editing tools to noobs and give updates to veterans. Their results seem to speak for themselves. In 2012 they had 500 million map editors. Think of this as the map version of Wikipedia.

The difficulty with crowdsourcing apps is that they don’t work unless you build a large enough community that the data is consistently being updated. Just as Wikipedia is reliant on niche experts for quality control, Waze depends on getting a significant mass of users in a given community to utilize their App.  For Waze to work, users have to be willing to keep it open and not use other applications to get them to work. To this end, Waze also integrates the gas buddy technology to provide users the option of updating gas prices in their neighborhood. They have also put together a voice turn by turn navigation system to keep users from turning to Google or Apple. These are big competitors to take on. But Waze has played their cards wisely. Rather than marketing themselves as a superior technology-which let’s be honest, they aren’t- they market the community atmosphere. They sell an idea of community togetherness. In addition to the utility of their app, they have an instant messaging service and provide the option of connecting users via Facebook.

Waze is a great case study of the importance of community-building and outreach and how to utilize social media to do so. But it is also yet another example of the difficult in pinning a value on such a company. Arguably, a huge amount of the value of Waze stems from the relationship it has built with its users. It is not at all clear how much of that value actually translates to monetization as a recent buyout attempt by Apple demonstrated. Bottom line: this is a company to keep an eye on!

For more info check out their adorable video here:

Why Your 2,000 “Likes” Don’t Mean Squat

Social media allows an organization to build a community that it can then leverage to accomplish its goals. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer new ways to directly engage with your target audience. The million dollar question, however, is how to efficiently leverage them. Everyone has a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Depending on the organization they often have many “followers” and “likes”. They may actively solicit this as well. If you are on LinkedIn you have probably seen posts saying “follow me on Twitter” or “like my organization’s Facebook Page.”

But beyond bragging rights these numbers in and of themselves mean diddly-squat. What matters is your rate of engagement. How often do followers “retweet” or respond to your posts? Similarly how often do you get replies or “likes” to your Facebook posts? Also important to both is the percentage of your followers and “likes” who are engaging. For example, If you have 2,000 “likes” but the same 10 people are the only ones engaging then your actual community is much smaller than your may think. In order to effectively utilize social media in your organization you must actively work on building your community and then maintaining it. 

Every organization must have a clearly articulated social media strategy in order to effectively utilize Facebook and Twitter. For small organizations this seems like a daunting task. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to afford a separate social media strategist, indeed, often they don’t even have a communications officer. But this is actually all the more reason for a clear strategy. The initial strategy is the lynchpin to successful subsequent social media use. The goal of the strategy, moreover, is to make sure that your social media use is as efficient as possible. Whether you are starting up a social media campaign or already have a Facebook Page and/or Twitter account it will be worth your time to spend times going through the following steps:

First you will need to create a community-building strategy: 

  • Niche: What will you offer? Why should people engage in your site?
    • Specialized news? Connections? 
  • Goal: Why do you want to build this community? 
    • Branding? Outreach? Event attendance? Fundraising? Activism? 
  • Target Audience: Who do you want to attract?
    • Women? Alumni? Americans? Minorities? 20-somethings?

Second, you will need to articulate a community maintenance strategy. Remember- there is a reason that someone decided to “like” your page or “follow” you. You have piqued their interest for some reason. But in our fast-paced world this interest is going to ebb unless you begin to engage them. This is something that the 2012 Obama campaign did very well. When an individual said that he or she would be interested in getting involved, the campaign made it a point to reach out to them within 72 hours. Obviously their goal was to reach people individually. But this is not feasible for most organizations. A way to make use of this principle, however, is to make sure that you are constantly engaging with your community by giving them something to DO.

  • Post something they will want to share
    • photo, quote, video, news story
  • Ask a question or write a thought-provoking post that is worded to facilitate dialogue 
  • Create events in which they can participate
    • online: live-tweets, live-blogging, storify, live-stream
    • offline: encourage invitation
  • For an activist community, create daily missions or “operations”

 So at this point I bet you are feeling a bit overwhelmed–“I thought you said a small organization could so this without a social media strategist!” is probably going through your mind. Yes I did and it’s true. Here’s how you take this strategy and turn it into action:

Get your hands dirty- EXPERIMENT! Once you know what you want to accomplish begin to post on that topic and see which types generate engagement and which do not.  Reach out to groups and individuals with similar interests by “liking” their pages and “following” on Twitter. Often this will generate reciprocity which will increase your overall reach. Track your progress using some of the free analytics tools to hone in on a concrete strategy. For some overall inspiration on what to post, check out Beth Kantor’s excellent blog and specifically her article: Content Strategy, Creation, Organization, and Measurement. She also discusses the way you can add a blog into your social media strategy mix.

Facebook Page Insights: Once you hit 30 “likes” on your page, Facebook begins to provide you with an analytics tool to help you figure out who is seeing your page and sharing your posts. It is not the best tool out there by far- BUT it’s free and will give you some helpful feedback as you experiment with posts. A year ago, Social Media guru Brittany Botti posted a great article talking about some of the updates Facebook made in their analytics. I like this because it gives you a sense of how powerful this tool can be.


For Twitter analytics, my personal go-to tools are Tweet Stats and Twitter Reach. Tweet Stats allows you to look at the performance of your Twitter account for the past year. This is useful if you have had your account for awhile and are looking to increase its effectiveness because it will generate a baseline against which you can then compare.

Twitter Reach is a very powerful tool for assessing your engagement week to week. The picture below is the report for my personal Twitter account. The number is compiled based on who retweets you and how many times. This reflects the fact that a retweet from a person who has 30 followers is less significant than one from someone with 3,000 followers. 

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 2.08.55 PM

You can also search the reach of a particular hashtag or even tweet. This is very useful if you are liveTweeting an event and want to see how successful you were.

To conclude, utilizing social media in your organization has tremendous potential and if done with a clear strategy will generate a net benefit. However, all of this is contingent on your willingness to engage in community maintenance each day. If you are unable to do this then I believe you should delete your social media presence all together. This may sound harsh but an outdated account with your organization’s name on it may actually hurt you (think about your own reaction when you see a website that has an out of date event calendar).


Your Twitter feed should have (5-10 tweets) throughout the day. You can make use of a Twitter Scheduler application. I’m a big advocate of spending a least a few points in the day retweeting so that you make sure to engage with other users. You should plan on posting something on your Facebook Page one to two times a day. I would mix it up a bit between multimedia and personal commentary. Consider sharing links to your page as well- this is a way to reach out to similar organizations or individuals and potentially generate some reciprocity which expands your reach.

Anyone can create a great social media strategy for their organization. The fundamental hurdle is setting aside the time to do so. I challenge you to set aside a weekend or two to really get into the basics of social media and to explore ways that it would help your organization accomplish its goal. You won’t regret it.

photo credits: williamedia via photopin cc
FindYourSearch via photopin cc

Facebook and Twitter are not Magic Beans

The place of social media within society is still a highly contentious issue. For its most ardent advocates it has become something of a deus ex machina for every societal ill. This view cropped up recently in Thomas Freedman’s article giving advice to incoming Secretary of State John Kerry. He suggests using social networks (read: social media) to deal with everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the negotiations with Iran over nuclear arms. Aside from the political naiveté of this piece which has been well laid out elsewhere, this is emblematic of this belief that social media is a “fix-it” tool. The political degeneration of the so-called “Facebook/Twitter Revolution” in Egypt demonstrates the fallacy of the belief that using Facebook or Twitter has any magical powers. Why should Facebook posts or Tweets matter to a domestic government? Sure it matters to the International Community- abuse can be reported and organizations such as Human Rights Watch can mount campaigns but this is independent of the process of actual political change. In the aftermath of the revolution, analysts revealed that the central utility of social media was its ability to rally people together. The fact that it took a mere 18 days is touted as a direct result of Social Media. Yet harken back to the fall of the Soviet Union- the communist government in Czechoslovakia fell in a mere 10 days. Please don’t get me wrong- my goal is not to minimize this achievement- and it would be completely false to say that social media didn’t play an important role. Rather it is to push back against the idea that social media is in and of itself as a game changer.

At this point you are probably asking why I am going to such lengths to hammer this home. It is because I believe that social media can be a game changer- but the power lies in its implementation. It is not enough to start a Facebook page or a Twitter account. What do 2,000 “likes” on your Page actually mean? So what that your hashtag went viral? One thing that a few journalists have discussed when talking about the Egypt revolution is the way that Social Media allowed for a sense of solidarity across state borders. This is actually very similar to what occurred during the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Students and activists were emboldened by stories of the East Germans and Poles standing up to their regimes. Social media is about dialogue- about engagement. 

I believe much of the current confusion lies in the fact that everyone recognizes the power of social media as an idea but they fail to implement it as such. Instead it becomes an additional tool- and let’s be honest, often a rather disappointing tool. My mother-in-law works as a social justice minister and recently told me that the most “likes” she received on a post was from one that she quickly typed up as a heartfelt response to a tragedy that had occurred. She didn’t understand why that as opposed to her normal posts which were well thought out and included links to issues that needed attention, should receive more attention.

To make use of social media the first step is to recognize that it is more than another tool of communication. It is best approached in that way that one would approach understanding a foreign land. There are norms, a culture, and distinct institutions. Now here’s the ironic thing. Most likely you are already aware of all of this because you are an inhabitant of this land. As a user of a social media platform you have an instinct for what is acceptable and what is not. Stylistically you know that there is a difference between posting on Twitter and Facebook (and it is more than just the 140 character limitation). Moreover, you know that you are in different frames of mind when you are on Facebook versus Twitter versus LinkedIn versus Tumblr. It is time to ask yourself why you use social media in your private day-to-day life. Is it to keep it touch with family and friends? Is it to stay up to date with the latest news? Or is it simply to give yourself a mental break? Now think about what it would take to engage a user like you. What would you be attracted to? Why would you engage? As I wrote in my post on the Oreo versus Coke Chase campaign, a major difference between the two is that Oreo choose to enter into the humorous Twitter conversation during the blackout. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, was intent on creating its own conversation. Oreo engaged while Coca-Cola simply used social media as another marketing tool. To truly grasp the full potential of social media organizations must focus on facilitating engagement- and this will differ, sometimes radically, case by case. 

The world of social media is exciting. It is a new frontier in many ways. In order to embrace this we must be willing to treat it as such and that will often mean throwing away the rule book and stepping out into the Great Unknown.

How the Oreo #blackout Ad Upstaged Coke Chase

No matter who you were cheering for I think we can all agree that Super Bowl XVII was one for the books.  Leading up to the game there was the family drama of the Harbaugh Bowl, the controversy surrounding Ray Lewis, not to mention the fact that both the Ravens and the 49ers were underdogs. The game itself proved equally exciting- the Ravens trounced the 49ers in the first half 21-6, Beyonce rocked out on the stage during half-time, Jacoby Jones made a record-tying 108 yard kick-off return touchdown, there was a 34 minute game delay due to a power outage, and then the Ravens (the underdog underdogs) won. Success during yesterday’s game depended on flexibility and endurance.

Within minutes of the lights going out, while the CBS sideline reporters struggled to put sentences together, Oreo seized the opportunity to tweet out what buzzfeed calls, ” a perfectly zeitgeisty” ad.

Their timing was perfect. The 34 minute power outage set Twitter aglow with an average of 231,500 tweets per minute according to Elaine Filadelfo from Twitter’s media team. These are the moments when the power of Twitter as a giant community becomes apparent. From lighthearted conspiracies about Jake Harbaugh cutting the wires to jokes about Beyonce’s electrifying performance (insert groan here!) everyone joined in the fun. Oreo’s ad hit the mood spot-on– it was quickly retweeted over 14,500 times!

Retweets are the twitter goldmine for corporations! Think about it- if you see a sponsored tweet there’s a strong chance you will probably ignore it. BUT what if your friend retweets a sponsored tweet to you? Suddenly that same tweet gains personality –you now know that your friend they it to be funny/insightful/useful, etc. and  you will be more likely to check it out. Moreover if you like it then you may choose to retweet it yourself. This is what happened last night with Oreo’s tweet.

To be overly dramatic- last night Oreo was able to step outside of its corporate shell and mingle with the unwashed Twitter masses. This is the type of engagement that social media nuts drool over. Ironically, it is also the type of engagement that Coca-cola was attempting to stimulate last night through its astronomically expensive “Mirage” campaign. By all rights this should have been today’s social media story. Coke created a “choose-your-own-adventure” style commercial that pitted three groups of characters- #CokeBadlanders, #CokeShowgirls or #CokeCowboys- against each other attempting to win an elusive Coke. [spoiler alert: the Showgirls won!] Coke utilized all of their social media accounts to post real-time updates as the race progressed and to urge fans to cast their vote.

Coke planned this campaign for months and it shows. I was actually quite impressed with the way that they tailored their campaign to the cultures of the individual social media platforms.

On their Facebook page they added their own twist to the popular “ERMAHGERD” meme 

Over on Tumblr they tried their hands at making a glitterbomb giff:

“When you ask for Coke at a restaurant, but the server tells you they don’t have it.

According to mashable, over the course of the campaign which started January 22nd, 1.3 million people visited and over 900,000 votes were cast.

Coke’s goal was to generate engagement with consumers in a way that would continue throughout the year. If engagement is generating laughter then sure Coke succeeded. My hunch, however, is that their idea of engagement hits closer to mimicking some form of a fan base and I’m just not convinced that this campaign did that- or really could ever do that.

I would argue that Pepsi’s behind the scenes spoof of the Coke Chase has probably generated a similarly amount of engagement for Pepsi as Coke Chase did for Coke. Coke’s advertisement was too overworked. Just like early 1990s websites went overboard on the bouncy icons and early 2000s movies went nuts on the computer generated graphics so I believe the current use of social media tends towards the “more is always better” Lady Gaga effect. While these campaigns use social media tools – they are less likely to reap the unique benefits of social media– such as engagement.

To engage in social media is to be willing to step away from the corporate hubbub and rules of marketing. It is in the conversation. Coke attempted to generate its own conversation. Oreo decided to simply join in. It is as simple as that.