How is Social Media Changing Television?

Social media is playing an ever-bigger role in advertising of media products in general but it seems to be an integral part of the marketing strategy for television shows, much more so than for films (although, still important). Live tweeting seems to have become a must for people involved with most primetime shows, with the networks themselves including a hashtag in a corner of the screen to make sure everyone is using the same hashtag and thus increase the chances of the show trending and with it, increasing their promotional reach.

Okay. We mostly understand why actors/producers/show creators/etc have started using Twitter for promotional purposes but my question here is how is this changing television? Or, more specifically, how is it changing it for the better?

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How is reading direct responses to the programming affecting its creators? Well, let’s be honest, it probably isn’t. Show runners are not likely to change their grand plan for their series just because some fans would prefer a different ending. And that’s not what storytelling is about anyway. But what I have noticed is little nods to fans in certain TV episodes. Say, they will call a character by a nickname created for them by the fans. Or, they will emphasise a character’s certain qualities that the fans themselves keep pointing out (without changing the actual story, that is). Sometimes they even indirectly answer fans’ frequently asked questions. In this way, fans are more enticed to continue not only watching the programming but also comment on it and share their thoughts with others. This is marketing at its finest and most sophisticated. And it is beautiful.

In terms of how this is changing television: It seems that it is increasingly more important for a show to have a dedicated fanbase than a large one. Of course, television networks are still very much concerned with numbers, as are advertisers. But nowadays, having fans of the show who constantly create online debates and discussions in relation to the show is a big asset. Take for example, BBC America’s Orphan Black. The show has created a lot of online buzz and even though many might not be actively watching it or even know the storyline, the debates around it are endless. Because of this, Orphan Black has now begun production for its third season, yet its ratings have never passed the 1 million mark for any of the episodes! With OB, it seems that people recognise it for its high quality and most importantly, continue writing about it and bringing others in on the discussion.

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Shows like Orphan Black give me hope for the future of television. Although the number of viewers will always be the prime concern for some shows and some networks, this to me seems to be the first step in a more audience-controlled television, where quality (of the television programme) does indeed trump quantity (number of viewers). I believe social media will continue to play a big part in this.

Greenpeace: Making The World Greener One (Oil Giant) Company At A Time

Back in July Greenpeace released a video called LEGO: Everything is NOT awesome. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:

Remember the Greenpeace campaign against Nestlé? It eventually forced the company to stop using products that come from rainforest destruction. Once again, Greenpeace have made a powerful video, which brought great success to their cause. The planning of their campaign is note-worthy, as they timed it so the video was uploaded to YouTube just after most people had already seen the Lego Movie, which was released a few months prior to the campaign and received mostly positive reviews. Lego is generally associated with happy childhood play times, which is why it provides such a good contrast to oil spills and the destruction of an aspect of the natural world. Additionally, the Greenpeace video is set to a melancholic version of Everything Is Awesome, the original Tegan and Sara song being well known to fans of the film.

The campaign, powered with the hashtag #SaveTheArctic received support from more than a million people worldwide, who urged Lego to stop collaborating with Shell. Today, Lego made an official announcement saying it has done just that – end the £70 million marketing contract with Shell. Success!

The video itself is Greenpeace’s most viral video ever and continues to gain traction even after three months. For more details on the success of this campaign, visit Greenpeace’s blog.

Whether you agree with Greenpeace and believe things can change for good one company at a time, or if you think Shell was the innocent victim in all of this (as some online comments suggest), one thing is certain: Crowdsourcing through social media should not be underestimated.

Being Anon on Facebook

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Facebook is developing a new app! It is expected to be released in the next few weeks but at this point in time details on the app (understandably so) remain unclear. It has been announced, however, that this app will, contrary to Facebook’s main page, allow for users to post anonymously. This coming from Zuckerberg is a surprise to many. The Facebook CEO once stated that to have multiple Internet personas is to lack integrity. Indeed, in an interview with the New York Times, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer described their social networking site as: “Differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm”. Although in early Facebook days pseudonymity might have been rare, one look at Facebook today tells a different story. Search for profiles of any public personas or imaginary characters and the results are endless.

All in all, to me it seems that Facebook has made a step in the right direction by allowing for anonymity. As for what the app actually does, we shall see.

Although this app seems not to be ground-breaking at any level, it is sure to gain some popularity due to several Facebook tie-ins we are sure to get as part of the promotion of the app. In this way, this new app will now have a role similar to Twitter’s, only without the 140-word limit. The app will undoubtedly get its share of attention and curious users, if only for the powerful marketing we can expect from Zuckerberg’s side. Whether the app will prove to offer something new and better for its users and thus ensure its longevity is another issue.

Transparent In ‘The Real World’

Excerpts from pages 62 and 63 of The Circle:

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Here, Mae and her bosses are talking about SeeChange, the Circle’s new project whose ultimate goal is to achieve total transparency. They have set up (and continue to do so) cameras in random places around the world. These cameras record in high quality and sustain most weather conditions. They are designed so as to blend in with the environment and thus remain unnoticed by most people. What this cameras record is everyday life in all corner of the worlds, the footage available as a live stream to anyone who wishes to see it.

This is their vision: If they manage to achieve total transparency and in this way close the Circle, all crime and wrongdoing would be minimized and people would live more honest lives, having every second recorded. “What about privacy,” you ask? Never heard of this concept before.

Going back to the real world of non-fiction now… In big cities such as London, CCTV cameras are almost everywhere, some of which are even available to view live. Sure, they’re there for our own protection but what will happen if someone who shares the Circle’s ideology gains possession of all this footage? Of course, transparency is far from something that’s solely being done to us. In fact, most people are willing participants. Social media platforms and the constant photo sharing (250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day) they entail is definitely a step in eliminating privacy.

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The idea of complete transparency lies at the centre of The Circle but it is not the idea itself that sends chills through the reader. It is the question of whether we are not to an extent already transparent – or heading in that direction.

Technology: Who has the upper hand?

Media theory teaches us that we live in an increasingly technologically enhanced world. The debate of control within this new technologically rich land started with two opposing opinions – a technologically deterministic and a humanist one. Marshall McLuhan representing the former with claims of technology turning into extensions of the human body, rather than objects completely separated from us. This suggests that technology does have a certain degree of control over us, as it is (literately, in cases of medical implants) inseparable from us. His view, however, was widely criticized by Raymond Williams (and scholars after him) as technologically deterministic – McLuhan regards humans as having no control, everything being determined by technology. Williams, on the other hand, believed that humans do control everything, including the technology they have created.

Everyday experience shows us that there is indeed truth in both of these contradictory claims. We do have control over technology but at the same time we have become dependant on it – to wake us up in the morning, give us directions, play music, provide us with information on just about anything. But for the lack of an emotional connection, there might even be some truth in the saying: Google is your best friend.

It seems that we have become used to dealing with technology on daily (hourly?) basis to the point where it becomes mundane. Yet we are well aware of the rapid technological developments and are looking forward to any and all new products. It does seem like certain science-fiction scenarios may yet be reality. With more and more tales of artificial life come also the tales of a dystopian future. A future, where human will no longer have any control or use, machines taking over. Some think these theories are far-fetched, yet even skeptics agree that technology is dominating our lives.

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Let us take a step back and question this (now commonly accepted) claim. Is technology dominating our lives? And if so, what are its limits? After all, if a plane with 239 passengers on board can disappear into thin air without a trace to follow, is technology as powerful as we deem it to be?

Office Utopia?

An excerpt from page 30 of The Circle:

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This Utopia is referring to the office spaces in The Circle, which have now expanded to a whole campus, complete with a gym, theatre, health food store, bedrooms, etc.

Although fictional, this campus resembles the offices at Google and Pixar.

Of course, there is no such thing as a general office job, but we do tend to use these words when referring to a variety of jobs that consist mainly of computer based work. The image of a typical office pops up almost immediately – 4 walls, closed door, a desk, a chair, a computer, maybe some filing cabinets in the corner. The typical office today, however, seems to have transformed into a much more open space, London’s The Campus being one example. This is due to the premise – the now commonly accepted premise – that the optimal employees are extroverts who work best in groups and in environments that accommodate instant communication with one’s co-worker. Enter: the office pod.

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In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain claims that most people actually work better in solitude or with minimal distractions (background noise is okay, as long as they are not being addressed directly). She does recognize the value in team work but comes to the conclusion that even in teams people work better when corresponding via email or chat rather than face to face. People who need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time but who normally work in a busy, crowded, noisy office, tend to go anywhere but the office to be more productive. Indeed Cain’s research suggests that the utopia described in Egger’s book is in fact far from it, particularly for introverts.

Introverted on the Internet

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung posited his theory of temperament in Psychological Types in 1922.  This text forms the basis of the now common division between introversion and extraversion. Extroverts being people whose communication is directed outward, they are comfortable in groups and crave social contact. Introverts, their polar opposites, like to spend time alone in quiet thought. In groups extroverts are the dominant ones, they occupy the alpha roles and more often than not they will be the leaders, while introverts follow quietly. Or so our perception has been shaped. While in Ancient times thinkers and philosophers where highly regarded, it seems that times have indeed changed and today most of us see our ideal selves (and more importantly, companies see ideal employees) as extroverts. This urges many to push themselves to be part of social situations they would normally avoid or to work in groups, when they know they achieve better results working individually [More information on Jung’s theory].

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Today, Jung’s theory is the basis of many discussions that followed but it is fair to say it is deterministic. Subsequent studies have shown that people are rarely either one or the other but rather fall somewhere on the scale of in-between. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking author Susan Cain illustrates just how much influence, authority and control introverts can have. Indeed, the book strives to change our (mostly negative) understanding of introverts.

The Internet has provided the introverted individual to meet the demands of companies and universities for group work and collaboration but at the same time gives them the opportunity to work in a way that suits their introverted selves. A quick glance at social media profiles gives the impression that just about everyone on there is an extrovert. It is indeed much easier to post a clever comment or a happy birthday wish to someone’s wall than it is to actually speak up and shake their hand. Does the Internet therefore offer a type of safe haven for all the introverts out there or does it only contribute to contemporary society’s perception of the extrovert as the ideal?

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#Sochi2014 still abuzzing

The winter Olympic Games of 2014 that took place in Sochi, Russia have finished yesterday, Sunday 23rd February 2014. As someone who has never followed news surrounding any Olympic games, past or present, I happen to know quite a lot about this year’s Sochi event. How come? Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Internet buzz.

Even before the event started there was a lot of criticism of the choice of Russia for such an event. There were concerns of a possible terrorist attack during the games started by news articles such as this one by the BBC. Perhaps even more discussed was the issue of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws and how this is going to affect both athletes and visitors who identify as LGBT. This issue was not only widely covered by the media but was also implemented in advertising strategies of many big brands, who wished to show their support for the LGBT community and simultaneously promoting themselves as “the good guys”, i.e. LGBT friendly. This was Google’s home page during the Opening Ceremony of Sochi 2014:

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With all the pre-game Internet buzz around the Olympics, Sochi 2014 became the most social Olympic Games, meaning more people have used social media to comment on the games than they have in the past.  The tweet rate of the Opening Ceremony alone was roughly 10,000 per minute and the overall count of tweets about the opening event surpassing 10 billion.

The negative criticism of the games before they even started made me think that this event might be more hated than loved. I used this  text classification machine learning tool to analyze the Twitter trend #Sochi2014 and saw that the majority of tweets were neutral or positive, rather than negative. It seems that most people’s focus during the games, unlike before them, was indeed on the sport and athletes themselves rather than the organization behind the event:

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An example of a negative, a positive and a neutral tweet:

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Today, just one day after the closing ceremony I followed the #Sochi2014 hashtag using Flocker [http://flocker.outliers.es], which was still very much active. In just 10 minutes more than 500 tweets came in, producing the following Twitter cloud:

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The most popular tweets and users:

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With social media being used by more people more frequently every day, it will be interesting to see what the next Olympic Games bring.

A 3-hr downtime: What was up with WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is one of the most popular mobile apps of last year.  The developing of the app started in early 2009 by Americans Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees as Yahoo. Having acquired some initial funding with the help of their former colleagues at Yahoo, WhatsApp began to update its services, soon allowing users to send photos, which contributes to the rapid grow of the app’s popularity.

As of December 2013, nearly 5 years after the very first version of it, WhatsApp had over 400 million monthly users. The app’s success not only throws shade at other similar apps or social networking sites that include instant messaging options (such as Facebook) but it goes a step further – it presents a free alternative to text messaging. WhatsApp was sold to Facebook on 19th February 2014 for $19 billion. Three days later the service was down for a few hours, prompting users to joke about Facebook “shutting down their competition” and WhatsApp’s creators “going on holiday” after having sold it. The 3-hour crash of WhatsApp, however, was due to technical difficulties and the app is once again working perfectly.

Both the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook and the app’s “downtime” has been commented on widely all over Facebook, Twitter and other social media. I decided to analyze a few of those tweets using ScraperWiki and searching for “Whatsapp”.

Unsurprisingly, the tweets came from all over the world:

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It seems that most people are aware of the connection between WhatsApp and Facebook, having used those two words in most Tweets. Here are some of the other keywords:

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Most people tweeted without the use of a hashtag:

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This search was conducted on Monday, 24th Feb 2014.

Crowdsourcing or advertising? Both.

The Circle, page 374: The Circle has created a tool called SoulSearch. This app is meant to find anybody on Earth with the help of other uses of The Circle. In a demonstration of SoulSearch Mae and more than a billion circlers use this tool to locate a known criminal:

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What Mae is doing in the excerpt above is a case of crowdsourcing. The crowd in the above case was The Circle’s own users but in reality, people tend to use several different social platforms to reach as many people as possible. Crowdsourcing is the practice of gathering information or using services contributed by many people that normally move in different circles (pun intended? Your guess). Crowdsourcing is a term most commonly associated with an online activity but of course it exists in an offline form as well. It has started with people helping out others or coming together for a good cause. It can also be used to raise money, in which case the term for it is crowdfunding.

Apart from its traditional role, crowdsourcing has played an integral part in advertising lately. There are different ways in which crowdsourcing is used in advertising. The very first stage of an ad campaign involves brainstorming and the gathering of ideas. Participants are asked to share their ideas on sites such as Userfarm. Sometimes all the company is looking for is ideas, other times they submit briefs (usually online), to which participants respond not only with the idea for it but the winner (and only the winner) also then gets to execute the idea. Perhaps the most common form of crowdsourcing that companies tend to use is contents. Here, participants execute the entire idea and create the ad (video, poster, photographs), submitting it to the company in hope of winning the (usually monetary) award.

Social media such as Twitter and Instagram have been used extensively by companies to promote their brand name. They ask their followers to share their images of themselves using certain products or services, usually using a common hashtag. Sometimes this is done to win awards, other times simply to get a retweet or a follow from the company’s account. In this way, every participant advertises products and helps spread the brand name.

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