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Listening in Social Media

I think if you asked people what social media is all about, many of them would say that it’s about broadcasting your thoughts and ideas to a wide audience. I don’t think that many people would say it’s about listening, but in reality, listening is a crucial component of effectively using social media. In fact, according to Beth Kanter, listening to what people are saying about your brand or issue is the most important step in building a social media strategy. Listening can even help you address a potential crisis.

Speaking of crisis, not listening to your social media audience can produce horrific results, which was demonstrated by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. When they pulled their funding to Planned Parenthood, social media outlets went crazy. Instead of responding to the uproar, the Komen Foundation did nothing, allowing others to control the public dialogue and severely damaging their brand. 

There is an important lesson to be learned here, which is that if you fail to listen to the people you are trying to reach and influence and fail to respond to their concerns appropriately, then you can inadvertently end up relinquishing control of your image. When an organization relinquishes control of their image, they effectively relinquish control of the organization itself. You can’t just put up a webpage with the information you think is relevant, and call your job done. There needs to be an active, two way exchange of information and ideas in which the organization responds to what their audience is saying. The more immediate and substantial the response, the better. Appearances matter a great deal (perhaps more than they should) in this world, and if you aren’t in charge of how you are perceived by the public, then you might as well close up shop and try to do better next time.  

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Rainy Daze

With the occasional exception, I can’t stand rainy days. They often leave me feeling tired, lazy, and depressed. I’ve discovered in recent years that I’m infinitely happier when the sun is shining, the weather is warm, and I’m surrounded by nature. This is one of the reasons that I’m so excited to be moving to a farm next year.

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                                                  This makes me sad.

I think if you talk to most people, they would agree that weather has an effect on mood. After all, Seasonal Affective Disorder is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a specifier for Major Depressive Disorder. While I was researching weather’s effect on mood, I came across this article that discusses the results of a study (Denissen et al., 2008) that showed that weather actually has very little effect on mood. The article also notes that there are two previous studies that also indicate “surprisingly small or sometimes non-existent effects of weather on mood”. Denissen et al. (2008) suggest that we only think the weather has significant effects on our mood because everyone thinks and says it does. I know that we’re all susceptible to becoming caught up in groupthink, but could this really be the only reason why the rain makes me and so many others want to crawl into bed and hide?

That’s when I came across another article that discusses the results of a study aimed at explaining why we don’t see the effect that weather has on mood in research. According to Klimstra et al. (2011), there are large differences between individuals regarding the effect that weather has on mood which end up averaging out across populations, producing results that lead us to believe that weather has little to do with mood. Klimstra et al. (2011) found that there were 4 distinct groups of people: unaffected (about half of the people in the study), summer lovers, summer haters, and rain haters. I would classify myself as a summer lover/rain hater.

In order to combat feelings of depression on rainy days, I try to think about the fact that rain is a natural part of the Earth’s healthy cycle. The water falling from the sky that makes me soggy and cranky also nourishes and sustains all of the life that makes me so happy. When I think of it that way, things start to feel a little brighter. As for those occasional exceptions that I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy sun showers in the summer, and when I have the day off on a rainy day, it can be fun to hide away indoors with cool people and just hang out. What are your thoughts on rainy days?

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Social Media: Changing the Way We Communicate

I remember the time of Myspace and Xanga very well. Myspace was my first experience with social media, and Xanga was my first experience with blogging. Most of my friends were on Myspace, and a handful of us were on Xanga, but social media was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. It was a thing that people did for fun in their down time, not a crucial method of communication (at least not in my circle of friends). Today, people use social media for an increasingly wide variety of important communicatory activities.

I found this really great article  that discusses 5 ways in which social media is changing our daily lives, the first of which is where we get our news. The author talks about how he checks Twitter and Facebook first thing in the morning to see what news stories his friends are talking about before venturing to CNN or another trusted news source, which is something that I do as well. If I see a news story pop up repeatedly on my Facebook feed, then I know it’s probably something of interest to me since I either, a) like my Facebook friends and share similar interests with them, or b) keep them around to entertain, inform, and sometimes even irritate me with their differing opinions.

Another one of the 5 is how we start and do business. I have a friend who is trying to break into the entertainment industry and has recently formed a company with his creative team. In addition to a professional Facebook page, Tumblr, and Twitter for the company where big announcements are broadcast, he also has a para-professional Twitter account where he discusses a wide variety of topics, including technology. He has acquired a few followers with a very large audience who could potentially spread his ideas to millions of people. As he says, this is the type of social media that lets us network with everyone. Social media is undoubtedly changing the way that businesses start up and gain steam.

A final one of the 5 ways that social media is changing of daily lives in terms of communication is what we reveal. The author discusses how people used to try to present an image of themselves that appeared to be in constant control, completely confident, and knowledgable. Now, the communication paradigm has shifted so that the goal is to reveal your humanness by being more upfront about your thoughts and feelings. I very much agree with the author’s assessment here since it is a shift that I have experienced in my own communication. I sometimes tell groups of my Facebook friends about how my day to day experiences are affecting me, and in return I receive genuine support, encouragement, and advice that makes me feel heard and appreciated.

Of course, there is a fine line between sharing and over sharing, which is something that I think we need to be very careful of. While we want to make sure that we are coming across as human, we also have to be careful not to come across as totally out of control. There are some things that people just don’t want to know, and it can be downright irresponsible to broadcast some of the most intimate details of your life to millions of people. As with any new technology, there is a learning curve. As long as we keep using social media for meaningful communication with one another (I doubt that will cease anytime soon), I think we’ll eventually get most of the kinks worked out.

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My Favorite Potent Potable

I’m being very self-indulgent and writing this blog post about my favorite potent potable…beer. I’ve been a fan of craft beers for as long as I’ve been able to legally imbibe them, and my love for them has grown substantially over the years. I can’t say that I have a favorite beer or even a favorite type of beer – there are far too many good ones out there. Lately I’ve been getting into the Fall brewing spirit by drinking as many different types of pumpkin ale that I can find, and it has been wonderful.

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From inserbia.info

One of the most exciting and most recent developments in my beer drinking life is that I’ve started frequenting a growler store. This growler store, to be precise. What is a growler? It is a 64 oz dark brown glass jug that is used to hold any one of the many different types of beer that you can find at the store. When you’re done with your beer, you simply bring your growler back to the store and buy some more beer to fill it up with. It makes for a very fun consumer experience, plus it’s better for the environment than buying beer in bottles or cans. I believe that growler stores are mostly located in urban areas (there are tons of them around Atlanta), and I will sorely miss my local neighborhood store when I move to the farm outside of Knoxville next year. In order to combat beer depression, I have devised a plan…

I am going to brew my own beer! I’ve been thinking that I’ll want a new hobby when I have roughly 160 acres of space to work with, and this sounds like the perfect one. I tried someone’s home brewed beer at Dragon Con, and it was so delicious that I thought, “I have to try this myself.” Most home beer brewing kits aren’t all that expensive, so one would make a great Christmas or birthday gift (*cough cough*). The process doesn’t seem to be terribly difficult, so I think I’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly with some trial and inevitable error. I think it will be like chemistry class all over again (in a good way), so that if you’re careful to follow all of the instructions exactly, you’ll most likely get the result you want. I also like the creative aspect of beer brewing. Once I’m more experienced, I can experiment with all types of different flavor profiles (i.e. pumpkin!) and make something that’s truly my own. I’m so excited to have my friends over to the farm, sit out on my raised porch in the woods, and have everyone enjoy my beer. I know that I will feel so proud of myself in that moment. Whether I’m living in an urban environment or a rural environment, I’ll always find a way to enjoy a nice cold glass of finely brewed beer.

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I enjoy telling stories. As Michael Margolis, CEO and founder of Get Storied says, storytelling is about getting people to see things the way you do. It’s very satisfying to give people a closer look into what I’m thinking and feeling, as well as the opportunity to respond with their insights into the situation. Based on the feedback I’ve received, I’ve never had a hard time telling engaging stories, at least not in person. Starting this blog has made me realize that it’s much more difficult for me to tell stories using the written word.

Here’s an article that talks about how to find the right medium for online storytelling, and provides some really great advice about creating an impactful story using the written word. It includes a basic story structure that you can follow when crafting a plot, which consists of five elements. I’m definitely going to keep these in mind while I’m writing blog posts. When I scrolled to the bottom of the article, I found this “Tip from Joe”: “Social media isn’t a silver bullet.” I agree, social media is not the be all and end all of communication, even though it is growing in importance. At the end of his tip was this statement: “You cannot Facebook your way into social change.” This is where I disagreed – hasn’t it been demonstrated that social media outlets such as Facebook are powerful tools for change, even if they are not the main instigator of change (i.e. Arab Spring)? It was clear to me that this article was really focused on storytelling via blogging, rather than other types of social media.

I decided to look for an article that discussed how to effectively tell a compelling story using Twitter. After all, you’re only allowed 140 characters to get your point across. How can you make the most of the limited space you have? This article highlights the uniqueness of being able to tell multi-level stories using Twitter, a social media tool that I am largely unfamiliar with. The article talks about how an author’s individual tweets can be bound together using a common hashtag, which creates a kind of a “Twitter comic”. Then, if you search for tweets from that author using the common hashtag, you can view the timeline of the entire story that the author has presented thus far. Thus, the author is able to tell a complete, continuous story that the audience can not only comment on, but participate in as well.

I think that ultimately, good storytelling arises out of making a genuine connection with your audience. It doesn’t necessarily matter which platform you are using (unless you’re using something antiquated like Myspace), as long as you tell an engaging story that allows people to view the world from your perspective. I’m currently learning how to tell a solid story through blogging, which is a skill that I am very happy to cultivate. I think that an interesting challenge would be to tell a story through multiple tweets while strategically using images, links, and hashtags to captivate and interact with my audience. What do y’all think about telling a story through Twitter? Do you have any experience doing so, and if so, do you have any advice?

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Gab Chat: Love in the Digital Age

I don’t meant to toot my own horn, but I absolutely love the title of my blog. Gab Chat is not just a clever (*toot toot*), redundant play on words – it is also one of my many nicknames, bestowed upon me by my dear friends Conrad and Suzy. My partner Camille and I have been together for over 3 years, but we just moved in together this June. Here we are looking spiffy at my uncles’ wedding earlier this year. Image

Camille and I were practically living together for almost a year before we shared the same address. We seldom spent a night apart, which meant lots of planning, packing, and traveling from my place to hers and vice versa. It was a pain, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. On the nights that we weren’t together, we would use Gmail’s chat feature (GChat) and talk off and on for hours about anything and everything. We also used it to communicate with one another throughout the day when Camille was at work (where Conrad worked as well). Conrad and Camille were living together during this time, and Suzy was a fixture of their apartment. Conrad and Suzy saw Camille talk to me on GChat so often that they started calling it Gab Chat. From there, it didn’t take much for Gab Chat to become my nickname. It was the name that Suzy greeted me with every time I showed up to the apartment, and I thought it was hilarious due to my predilection for nicknames.

Aside from being highly amusing, I also find some profundity in the whole Gab Chat situation. Gchat allowed Camille and I to stay in touch to a degree that wouldn’t have been possible had we been using our phones. Texting can be cumbersome, and talking on the phone wouldn’t have allowed Camille and I the opportunity to be engaged with the people sitting right in front of us (i.e. Conrad, Suzy, and Lanny, my former roommate) at the same time that we were engaged with one another. It also wouldn’t have allowed for Camille to chat with me at work. I know what some of you must be thinking: “Where have you been? Have you forgotten about AIM?”. In many respects, AIM and Gchat are practically the same thing. But there’s one thing that makes Gchat decisively more awesome: video chat. It’s the same thing that makes Skype so amazing. Today we are able to not only chat with and/or audibly talk to people all around the world, but we’re also able to see them. Given that nonverbal communication often tells us so much more about what a person is feeling than words can, this is huge.

I know that I’m not making any kind of revolutionary observation here, but I think that it can be very easy for us to take the ease with which we are able to communicate with one another for granted. I believe that long-distance relationships of any kind are bolstered by the technology that many people have access to on a regular basis. A few months back, I Skyped with one of my best friends who was living in Zambia for a year. Being able to see her face made me so happy. I almost didn’t realize how much I had missed her until I was able to communicate with her like she was sitting across from me. Now, Conrad is living in Milan for a number of months, so he’s my new Skype target. As I see it, the only thing that’s really missing from the equation is touch. Get to work, developers! I want to hug my friend!

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Blurred Lines: Personal vs. Professional Use of Social Media

Figuring out the distinction between the personal and professional use of social media is turning out to be quite a challenge for me. I’m in school training to be a social worker, but my long-term career goal is to be a farmer. Allow me to explain. This coming May, my partner Camille and I will be moving to a 160 acre farm just outside of Knoxville, TN. The land hasn’t been farmed in some time, and the plan is for Camille to start growing sustainable organic produce on it as soon as possible (the goal is to even have some crops in the ground before May 2014). While she is getting the farm up and running, I’ll hopefully have a job in the social work field that will support us financially. Our dream is that the farm will become successful enough that I’ll be able to stop working a 9-5 job and focus solely on farming and running the business we have built together. As a social worker, it is important to maintain a very professional image, both online and off, so I think it’s prudent to keep your personal and professional lives mostly separate when it comes to using the internet. As a farmer the rules are different, so I’ll need to be making some very important decisions about my online persona in the future.

Personal on the left, professional on the right (www.client-bridge.com)

Farming is not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. You live where you work, so your personal life is completely intertwined with your professional life. In order to be a good small-scale farmer, it is essential that you connect with the people living in your community. You want them to know who you are and what you stand for as a person as much as you want them to be informed about what you’re growing. The diagram above outlines the differences in expected content between personal social media on the left and professional social media on the right. As a farmer, this line between personal and professional social media content is blurred. I want the people of Knoxville to know that I’m passionate about social justice, interested in brewing my own beer, and maybe even that I’m scared of heights because I want them to know that their food comes from a real person. That being said, a friend pointed out to me that it is important to not have any wasted tweets or Facebook posts. If I’m telling my customers that I’m scared of heights, I had better have a reason for doing so. I could include a picture of me up on a ladder working on a project to communicate my fear of heights while simultaneously giving customers an inside look at what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis on the farm.

The Facebook page of D and A Farm provides a good example of what a farmer’s social media presence can be like. They include lots of pictures of their crops, both in the ground and on the dinner table, and they share the contents of their weekly CSA boxes. On a more personal level, they also post pictures of themselves and the people they love spending time on the farm. Darby Farms is another good one. Their page showcases the professional interactions between the farm and its customers, but they also post many links to articles about issues that are important to them. I think that striking a balance between the styles of these two pages is something that I want to strive for in my own social media endeavors in Knoxville. I want there to be a continuous, reliable exchange of information between me and my customers while also communicating my personality and passions. I think that’s the social media sweet spot for a farmer.