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Social networking

Social media during epidemics: a poisoned chalice?

5 Jan, 15 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Social networking is now the most popular online activity worldwide. Social networking sites account for nearly 1 in every 5 minutes spent online globally, reaching 82 percent of the world’s Internet population. As such, sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become an unavoidable part of crisis communication. However, opinion is mixed as to whether this pervasiveness is a blessing or a curse to organisations charged with protecting public health. The very attributes that make social media invaluable to communicators (instantaneous, wide-reaching) also make it incredibly difficult to control and moderate.

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One concern about social media is that it has the potential to generate and perpetuate rumour. Following the first diagnosis of an Ebola case in the United States on 30th Sep 2013, mentions of the virus on Twitter leapt from 100 per minute to more than 6,000. In Iowa, the Department of Public Health was forced to issue a statement dispelling social media rumours that Ebola had arrived in the state. Meanwhile, a steady stream of posts claiming that Ebola can be spread through air, water and food appeared; all of which are inaccurate.

Trying to stem the spread of incorrect information online shares many similarities with containing a virus in the real world. Internet users who have been given false messages from an inaccurate media report, another person on social media or word-of-mouth, proceed to “infect” others with each false tweet or Facebook post. “We have millions and millions of people on these social networks,” says Ceren Budak, a researcher who studies online communications at Microsoft Research. “Most of them in certain cases are not going to have reliable information, but they’re still going to keep talking.”

Part of the issue is thought to be the piecemeal way in which news is now consumed. According to a Pew Research Center study, almost a third of US adults get at least some of their news from Facebook, where recognised sources are competing with friends and relatives. Studies show that people are far more likely to trust information that comes from people they know than faceless organisations. This is how a single false statement on Twitter can affect thousands.

However, a report produced by the TELL ME project argues that “whilst on an open platform such as Twitter, users are free to post any message…the vast collaborative networks that comprise social media often question and correct rumours posted”.  Whilst there is more information online than ever before, users have learned to verify information and question where it is from. “Whilst the ‘citizen journalist’ can report on events ahead of reports by other media outlets or organisations, users are still wary of sources and, even on Twitter, hold official sources in high esteem, often seeking verification before believing alarmist messages”.

The Guardian did a great job of illustrating how one user’s tweet was retweeted several times during the Birmingham riots in England, August 2011, leading to a rapid spread of misinformation. Within half an hour the rumour of riots in a Birmingham children’s hospital spread through the simple process of people retweeting a dramatic and unfounded tweet. Despite this misinformation gaining momentum, within a period of two hours, the Twitter community was able to discredit the rumour. This demonstrates that users of social networks readily collaborate to make informed decisions on the quality of information they are receiving.

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Whether or not social media is seen as a force for good or evil during pandemics, it is a communication channel that those seeking to protect public health cannot ignore. Nor can organisations and individuals involved in crisis communication be reactive to messages shared and posted in this competitive environment. They must instead take a proactive stance in establishing an authoritative presence on social media channels before and during a crisis.

At the recent TELL ME conference, Alexander Talbott, a digital communications consultant specialising in healthcare, offered the following guidance on realising this objective:

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TELL ME (Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence) is a European Commission funded, collaborative project that has systematically reviewed existing evidence to develop practical guidance, online tools and models for improved risk and crisis communication during pandemics.

BMJ was the responsible partner for the report on New Social Media referenced above.

What value can social media add to conferences?

14 Apr, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Attending the IOC World Conference for Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport in Monaco last week got me thinking about the value social media adds to such events. Apparently, 84% of organisers use Facebook to promote their events, while 61% use Twitter and 42% use YouTube. It seems that social media not only facilitates knowledge sharing and networking amongst attendees, it can also help create a real buzz that starts before the event and continues long after it ends.

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How to reach your audience at the right time on multiple networks

6 Feb, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Twitter generated an entire ecosystem of social networking apps, each striving to make using multiple social networks, posting everywhere and sharing longer posts, easier. Twitter then started cracking down on how third party apps could use its API and most of us moved back to using each network individually. However, there are still a few apps out there that can make social networking easier and more productive. One of the best is Buffer.

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The backlash to Klout: How much value do we place on social media influence?

20 Sep, 13 | by Deji Sodipe, Digital Intern

When Klout launched in back in 2009, no one could have predicted the extent to which it would polarize public opinion. This analytical tool, which measures your ‘social influence’ by way of a numerical score, has proved to be the marmite of the social media world. Its staunch advocates devotedly post content to increase their ‘Klout score’ whilst its detractors question the validity of its scoring system. Whatever your opinion, it’s clear that social influence is something that is causing more and more people to sit up and pay attention to their online profiles.

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Is Google+ the party that people are showing up to fashionably late?

26 Jul, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

At the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference last week, Dan Patmore (Search Marketing Manager for Argos) shared his views on what trends and products digital marketers should be focusing on in the next 12 months. He pointed to insight, technological developments and the importance of the customer. He also (somewhat reluctantly) mentioned Google.

Dan described the launch of Google+  as “the party that nobody came to”.  In other words, there was a huge amount of hype, everybody got very excited, perhaps created an account, and then, nothing. He continued the analogy and surprised some people in the room (including myself) by saying that Google+ in 2013 may well be “the party that people are showing up for fashionably late.”

In January 2013, the Global Web Index revealed that Google+ had overtaken Twitter to become the second largest social network. Google+ now enjoys an impressive 359m monthly active users and brand interaction has apparently grown by 45.5% between Q2 2012 and Q1 2013.

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Facebook News Feed: bigger images, greater control and platform consistency

15 Mar, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

As you may already be aware, Facebook is rolling out the first major update to its News Feed since the feature launched nearly seven years ago. As with every other change the site has made, the new design has been met with mixed reactions and hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media.

Facebook’s revamped News Feed gives the homepage a starkly mobile look, reducing clutter and lending more space to prominent photographs. It takes significant cues from the Facebook mobile apps for phones and tablets, adding a new side navigation bar and more white space.

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Followerwonk: analyse your Twitter followers for free

8 Mar, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

If you’re looking to connect with people in a particular niche on Twitter, Followerwonk could be just the tool for you. It’s currently free to search Twitter biographies, compare users and analyse followers of multiple accounts, so try it out before subscriptions kick in.

What can I find out about my followers?

By linking a Twitter account to Followerwonk, users can run a number of different analytic reports for free. Below is a list of the most useful for strategically growing a following and connecting with ‘influencers’ in a specific area:

  • Influence scores – how influential are your followers?
  • Follower counts – how many followers do your followers have?
  • Mapped locations – where are your followers located? (see below) more…

Facebook’s Graph Search: sentiment now included

18 Jan, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Not only is Facebook the online destination where users spend the most time, it also represents a massive global repository of marketing data. Companies have spent the past few years trying to understand how to leverage Facebook Pages, Likes, and other aspects of the social network in order to connect with customers and gain tactical advantage over competitors. Facebook’s Graph Search, announced this week, seems to offer brands a new tool for mining the market research data stored on its servers.

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Article-level metrics: which service to choose?

26 Oct, 12 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Article-level metrics (or ALMs) were a hot topic at this week’s HighWire publisher meeting in Washington. (Highwire hosts both the BMJ and its stable of 42 specialist journals). From SAGE to eLife, publishers seem sold on the benefits of displaying additional context to articles, thereby enabling readers to assess their impact. These statistics range from traditional indicators, such as usage statistics and citations, to alternative values (or altmetrics) like mentions on Twitter and in the mainstream media.

So, what services are available to bring this information together in one simple interface? There are quite a few contenders in this area, including Plum Analytics, PLoS Article-Level Metrics application, Science Card, CitedIn and ReaderMeter. One system in particular has received a good deal of attention in the past few weeks; ImpactStory, a relaunched version of total-impact. It’s a free, open-source webapp that’s been built with financial help from the Sloan Foundation (and others) “to help researchers uncover data-driven stories about their broader impacts”.

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RebelMouse: an easy way to “deal with social”?

6 Sep, 12 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

With more and more social networks appearing on a daily basis, many find themselves with multiple sites to manage and not enough time to do so. Enter RebelMouse, a self-proclaimed “social front page”, that pulls in user content from social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

At first glance, RebelMouse looks like a digital newspaper, hosted on Pinterest. After you spend some time on the site, however, it becomes clear that there is more to it than that. Founded by Paul Berry, the former CTO of The Huffington Post, RebelMouse has already signed up 32,000 users since it’s launch in June.

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