Tag Archives: university

Disrupting the barriers of media in the 21st Century

This pre-internet installation was and remains a vital consideration in the future of media. It has been supposed for a long time that communication and media technologies allowed people who already knew each other to improve existing relationships. Alternatively, broadcast media were used to send corporate-owned messages to the ‘masses’. There has been very little in the understanding of communities and how they are built and morph through media. To date, due to the expense of entry to creating content for media communication technology, most middle class people have been limited to the telephone – and that form is one-to-one rather than the one-to-many formats offered by social media. This installation’s first day shows how people who did not know each other were able to create conversations and relationships – even for a short time.

People in the video respond a certain way because they realize people in the other location can actually see them. This created an ‘event’. In the 21st Century, when everything that happens in public locations could readily and easily be posted to the web, are we seeing a change in everyday public behaviors due to the fact that we are aware, more than ever before, that someone might be posting our actions? From music concerts to classrooms, from traffic accidents to natural environments, people are creating ‘events’. The greater questions are how have we as a community become the public entity we are creating, and what impact does this have on how we relate to each other. What has made people immediately reach for their cell phone to take a picture when something happens? This is a stage of history we’ve never faced before.

While we have come through an era where “the medium is the message,” we have moved on from this. The medium is still the technology. The message today is found in the resonance of community. One is not the other. In fact, the irony as stated by Steve Harrison in his essay on this particular video (found in HCI Remixed), is key. Separation does in fact, invite a connection. If we believe that human beings seek resonance with each other, eliminating some of the barriers to finding that resonance through disrupting the accepted norms of relationships and community will in fact deliver us to new ways of ‘seeing’ each other. Through these new ways of discovering resonance we will be able to grow an international array of communities. The international would relate not just to geographical space, but also class space. We have a media which will offer everyone an opportunity to find resonance of community with the homeless, the traditional-media famous, and their neighbor.

Do online communities pretend to care?

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to attend IMSI, the Invitational Masters Student Invitational, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the weekend of October 16-18. Given Rutgers received over 100 applications, to be one of the 25 students invited to discuss their current research and proposed dissertation topic with Rutgers faculty, existing doctoral candidates, and other invitees is a privelege and real highlight of my academic career.

In my application I had to submit an existing paper to demonstrate my research. The paper I chose to submit was on identity work performed on twitter through the use of language and sentence structure. This paper looked at how people create and present an identity of themselves on Twitter, primarily through the use of @ replies, hashtags and retweets. While it’s a decent paper, for Rutgers I’d like to extend it to look at this identity work, and how the Twitter community sees its need to create an identity of concern in crisis and tragedy. This is where I’m headed.

Online communities and crisis

We’ve all seen media stories of tragic events, and how people are affected by them – and how they’ve gathered together online as a result. While sites exist to create online memorials, sometimes it crosses over and a personal fun page is morphed into a place for others to gather when they’ve passed on. On Twitter, I have personally witnessed multiple occasions where someone has ended up tweeting their own tragic events. The death of a wife. The death of a child. I wonder what would have happened if Twitter had been so commonplace during larger tragedies such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

I have watched the online community gather to provide concern and support to individuals directly affected by tragedy. It is this kind of resonance that led me to undertake a small content analysis on the tweets associated with the Australian bushfires last year. I wanted to find out who was tweeting about it? How were they involved? What were they saying and why?

The paper was a very small, very specific analysis in which I was surprised to discover that two thirds of people who twittered during the high point of the bushfire-related tweets were located nowhere near the tragedy. In fact, they were overseas. None of them knew people directly affected. And what were they saying?

Apart from retweeting basic information, the majority of people wanted to know how could they help?

Seeking triangulation? I’m not quite there yet…

Last week I attended the presentation of Leysia Palen’s to-date work in crisis informatics at CU. And the data appears to be reflected in her unit’s research (in particular, on the American-located Red River floods) as well. Exactly the same percentage – two thirds of people tweeting during a disaster are not directly involved.

So, is this real?

I hear a lot of people who doubt the friendships experienced in online communities. They say “how do you know they’re real?”

Now, of course they’re not doubting that the person tweeting is human (sometimes now, however, that presents an entirely different issue), but they are definitely doubting their authenticity. How do you know someone is really concerned about you if you’ve never met them face to face before? And it’s a really good question.

The Karen Walker factor

Karen Walker was a special character who found life, and resonance with many in the hit sitcom, Will and Grace.  While the show has had its day, there are many Walker moments that still hit the nail on the head.It is what is swimming in my head as I plan my paper for the Rutgers Invitational.will and grace

One of these is in an episode when Will and Grace are not talking (after a massive argument in which Will tells Grace to move out, which I swear was one of the strongest bits of acting on television I’ve seen). In chatting with Jack about how to get Will and Grace to talk again, she firstly says, “pretend to think, pretend to think.” She then follows it with “Pretend to care, pretend to care.” Of course Karen does care. She’s just conscious of the need to appear to care as well. Plus it’s funny.

So here I am:

* Are people who offer support in online communities ‘pretending to care’?

* Is the expressed concern a demonstration of identity work that gains them favour and positions them as caring individuals you’d want to have as a friend?

* How does the caring from the community affect the person experiencing tragedy?

Do you have any experience of this? Would you be willing to undergo an interview for my research? What do you believe is true?

My sincere thanks goes to the SJMC at CU, without the support of which I wouldn’t be able to conduct any of my research and also in particular to Dean Paul Voakes who saw fit to support my application with a letter of recommendation that I never saw, but am convinced was highly influential in my acceptance.

Personal brands and the Unique Selling Proposition

After the Creative Revolution in the 1960s, advertisers began to try to find communications that gave people a reason to buy their product. That developed into the Unique Selling Proposition or USP – the ‘thing’ that makes people choose your product. It still applies. Every successful product has a USP. Over time this went from features to benefits. You’ve probably heard ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. Sell the benefit. In a marketplace full of things that do the same operation, to stand out from the crowd you need to have something that sets you apart. And that’s your sizzle.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

For example, there are heaps of dishwashers. They all wash dishes. It’s hard to be known as a product, based purely on that. It doesn’t set them apart. But sizzling benefits like being ‘whisper quiet’, or ‘economical’, or ‘green’ will make the difference for the consumer in a target market. Make no mistake, these benefits might be common to more than one product – but the first to market with it as a sizzling quality, to make it a USP, will get to own that benefit.

In the 21st Century, if you are one of the many who believes you, personally, are a brand (do a search on personal branding and you’ll see what I mean) then the USP has never had more importance.

How do you sell yourself? What’s the one thing about you that makes you different and desirable? What’s your USP?

There are no doubt lots of people who can fulfill a good bit of your job. Code a website, write a story, answer a phone, collect a debt, change a nappy.

But there needs to be something about the way you do it that sets you apart. What’s your USP? Too many people don’t easily identify the things that they’re really great at – better, in fact, than most others. It’s time you did. What’s your sizzle?

It’s harder for women to get to recognise their sizzle than for men.

Research has shown women, in particular, are bad at identifying the things they’re really great at. A female A grade math student will say she’s “okay at math”. Whereas a B or C grade male math student is more likely to say they’re “great at math.”

It’s ironic that in the 1960s, Mary Wells, the first woman to own an advertising agency, was the first to think of branding beyond an obvious USP in the four walls of advertising.

Mary Wells, image from www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

Mary Wells, image from http://www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

She extended the branding across all the marketing effort, so the flavour of that USP was on the lips of everyone experiencing any part of it. Ms Wells decided communication was something that happened all across the marketing effort. Of course she was right. The first step is identifying your USP. The second is to celebrate it across everything you do. The way you behave, dress, communicate. It’s all your own brand.

A good number of mommybloggers have accomplished this. They can sell their sizzle. But far too many very deserving women are not doing it.

Grab your sizzle, sell it up. Because you’re awesome. You have a USP. Time to identify it, claim it, and use it.

Using social media in education

Spending the last two days at the Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology Conference was a wonderful, enriching experience. As you’d expect from a conference that has a wealth of great sessions, I’ve come away invigorated and inspired to analyse, assess and further integrate additional teaching and assessment strategies – even though I was a co-presenter at the conference too!

I believe these conferences are vital. To get educators, particularly at tertiary level, to consider the way they deliver both content and assessment, really look at whether it’s working well or not and how they can improve, is a real focus of what I want to achieve both personally and professionally.

It was such a great experience to be able to focus in a workshop on how to use Twitter, in particular, in a tertiary education environment.

Step One

Before considering the technology, step back and think about your desired learning outcomes and competencies you need to deliver in your course.

Step Two

Consider how you deliver those things now. What works, what doesn’t? What learning styles are being addressed? I really think in a classroom environment we’re so used to seeing all the students enter and sit at the back of the room, and the same 5 people participate in discussions, that we’ve stopped realising that it’s problematic. Stopped looking at ways to improve it. Disconnect and think of what your ideal is.

Step Three

Think of things you can change to meet those different inadequacies. To improve your practice. Some of these may well include using social media to foster inclusive and participatory discussions, the elimination of people thinking they’re asking ‘dumb questions’ and resonance between students and educators.

Step Four

Gently lead your students into associating social media with an education environment. You’re going to be nervous in trying something new. They are going to be nervous that you’ll encroach their ‘personal’ domain. (Damn it, what’s next, friending them on Facebook?) While for many students, you accept there’s a number of people who will just not get involved, for the students, there are a number of them who are just expecting to fail. Simple. Think back to the most effective educators in your lives. These are the people who made a real impact. And typically, they’re the ones who tried something a little different. Who cared just that bit more. Why not be that educator to these students?

Step Five

When you’ve identified the areas of practice and efficiencies you’d like to change, focus on the tools that will help that happen. And then test it out. Invite students to take a journey with you. I bet that if you’re honest and let them know you’re testing something out for the first time, to try and get the content more engaging and interactive and anything else you’ve identified as problematic, most of them will willingly take the journey with you from the very start.


A. Every semester is a new beginning. You don’t have to let the legacy of the previous one linger. But you should celebrate the improvements you made.

B. Every semester allows you to learn as an educator, and be even better.

C. Every student wants to learn. They’re in your class for a reason. Some don’t know what they’re going to learn. Maybe it’s just that they can. And that’s okay.

D. Get honest: Believe you can be better. Believe alternative strategies can actually work. Recognise your teaching practice wasn’t perfect to begin with.

E. Get ready to be important to your students. An educator that they remember for the rest of their lives.

Good luck this semester!

What kind of Twitter identity do you seek?

There are some very interesting psychological theories used in Marketing and Business which explain why people behave the way they do. Put simply, people buy different brands and products to fulfill external and internal needs. These needs reflect their sense of self. And people can generally be placed in one of three categories:

1. Affiliation needs – people who primarily want to ‘belong’. For example, think of teenagers and their need to buy the latest fad.

2. Leadership needs – people who want to be seen as innovators and want to be seen as cutting edge. A good example is all those people looking for the latest and greatest new phone!

3. Achievement needs – people who buy things to demonstrate they’ve ‘made it’. Often, buying that sportscar or a First Class plane ticket fulfills that need.

My current research on discourse analysis on Twitter suggests you can identify people working to fulfill these same needs on Twitter! With just text to convey how we want to be seen by everyone, the things we decide to Tweet and whom we tweet with demonstrates us ‘working’ to fulfill one of these needs.

Someone with an affiliation need on Twitter will use lots of hashtags. Ways of belonging. They will identify themselves as part of popular movements on Twitter. They want to be part of a particular crowd. Mommy bloggers. Lots of RTs and @ conversations with people they want to be associated with.

Someone with a leadership need will probably not ‘life stream’. Instead they’ll stay on one topic and tweet links to specific cutting edge stuff in their field. They will talk with just about anyone as long as it’s on the topic they want to be seen as a leader in. They don’t stray from that path. It’s like they’re almost the Twitter expert on a particular subject.

Finally, someone with an achievement need will want to be recognised as having ‘made it’. These, I claim, are the type of people who un-follow bulk numbers of people so they can appear accomplished. They’re more likely to be focused on follower numbers than anything else. They might life stream about their accomplished lives, and even lead calls to donate to ‘people less fortunate’, to further identify their separateness from them.

The way we behave on Twitter reflect identity work where we want to be seen by the community as one of these types of people.

What Twitterers can you think of that fits one of these categories? Where do you fit?

Resonance, Not Reach

Creating a brand LoveMark in the 21st century has never been easier. Yet, the concept seems to be alien to so many companies.

Many brands think they’ve got a loyal following. But what they really have is passive brand loyalty. People who buy the product all the time, but don’t really have a loving, committed relationship. It’s a marriage of convenience. Your brand is not a LoveMark. And you’re fooling yourself if you think those sales figures are just going to continue without putting some work into your relationship. There’s always something shiny coming around the corner, or a challenge to be met and if your customers aren’t willing to go the extra mile for you, then you’re DOA.

Advertising used to be about reaching as many people as possible with your message. Reach. CPM. It was all about how many eyeballs you could get to. And that’s what brands thought would bring them some sort of relationship with people. But it’s a flawed system that doesn’t work. The old “50% of my advertising works and 50% doesn’t – but I don’t know which 50% is which” simply isn’t good enough for today’s effective marketer, working on a slashed budget and still needing to demonstrate real ROI.

I put it to you that Reach is not what you should be focused on (in fact, it was never the real focus, but we got lost because that’s all traditional media could measure and create sales on). It’s not primarily about Reach.

It’s all about Resonance.

To explain Resonance to students, I say it’s like hitting the sweet spot on a tennis racquet. You get the best power, best direction, best result – with ‘just-right’ input. Hitting a ball with the sweet spot on the tennis racquet is Resonance. And the perfect chord on a guitar is Resonance.

Social media offer brands an opportunity to create a LoveMark because they offer a capacity for Resonance that traditional formats, focused on CPM, could never offer. CPM tries to achieve Resonance by throwing lots and lots of tennis balls at a racquet, and hoping one or two make the sweet spot. There’s stacks of lost message. And stacks of lost money.

Resonance in advertising is all about making your product the perfect and only fit that the buyer can see for them. In fact, it shows the product as being built specifically for them. It’s all about the individual consumer. It’s not about how many thousands of people you can get your message to. It’s about getting it to the right people.

By using social media as a tool, Resonance happens when your brand speaks to people online. Personally. As part of a conversation. When you’re speaking to someone it says you care about them. How do you think rock stars get so successful? Name any teen heart-throb: David Cassidy, Robbie Williams, Jesse McCartney, even (good grief) the Jonas Bros make girls feel they are performing just for them. They sing songs that say “hey, I’m so lonely and you could be the one.” Rock stars who do that have Resonance down pat. And now it’s easy for any brand to do the same.

Social media offers brands the opportunity to become a LoveMark for people and eliminate a great portion of the passive brand loyalty that they’re built on. Good brands, like Zappos.com are in the space, making personal relationships with people a priority. As time goes on, I hope more companies rediscover the importance of Resonance over Reach. If you build resonance with one person, then they’ll be singing your praises day in and day out to people who care about what they have to say. And that’s a CPM you couldn’t put a price on.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.








In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.


If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.