There’s a lot of facets to Google+ that leave its users intrigued, frustrated, mystified or dismissive — and sometimes several of those at once.
Using it increases our content’s exposure in Google searches, and allows us another platform for reaching out to our readers — and specific groups of our readers, if we so choose… and do the prep work.
Once you realize you’ve already got a functioning Google+ account, all that’s left is to dive right in and find other good uses it. In case you missed them in April, here’s some easy ways to get started:
- Its mystical SEO powers make it an excellent place to give some of your previous best work a new life.
- Google+ might be out of your comfort zone, but the best way through that is to use it in a way you haven’t tried before. Pick one of its many options for socializing, and go for it.
- The +1 function makes it easy to promote others’ content, or even help them expand their reach.
Facebook. Seems like it’s been around forever. For many of you, it was your very first social media experience. And even though its changes generally spark a lot of fervor among many users, eventually we all just jump in, figure it out and continue being faithful users. Or back away until we see enough others jumping in that we feel comfortable following suit.
There’s probably a greater lesson in that, but let’s move on for now.
Facebook’s relatively long history translates into a relatively wide reach, especially for our papers. Though our core accounts have about as many followers here as on Twitter (with the exception of the Redlands Daily Facts, which instead has about twice as many Twitter followers), it seems our particular readership is more consistently mobilized via Facebook.
But we can always do better.
To that end, I offered up some Facebook tips among my Social Media Month challenge posts throughout April. In case you missed them, here’s a quick recap, in no particular order:
- Facebook is a valuable crowdsourcing tool, especially if you engage your readership.
- Once engaged, Facebook is a great companion to Storify, especially if you’ve installed the Google Chrome plug-in.
- Facebook’s sharing function makes it easy to promote the good work of others, giving credit where credit is due while expanding any story’s reach. (This has been particularly useful in our continued promotion of Digital First Media’s American Homecomings project.)
- Facebook is a great place to promote those stories that might have fallen through the cracks.
- Since our commenting system is on Facebook, it’s the prime choice for jumping into community discussions of your stories.
After months of (mostly) silently judging Instagram and the entire #PhotoADay “monthly” “challenge” (yes, each of those deserve their own set of quotes in order to apply proper levels of sarcasm: it’s not monthly if it’s EVERY day of EVERY month, and “grass”? “laundry”? Are these things really that challenging to photograph? Are they things I really want to spend time flipping through?) bandwagon, I’ve been trying to like this social media Facebook liked enough to pay $1 billion to acquire.
Let’s just say it hasn’t been an easy sell.
Instagram annoyed me right out of the gate with its shape. With my background in design, I couldn’t help myself. Square photos were pretty much a fundamental no-no in just about every photo- and design-related J-School class I ever took. Not to mention that square media seems to invite gaping (wasted) space when plugged into various forms of social media. More on that later.
My second and more relevant beef was watching it divert the attention of journalists from more practical — and more PUBLISHABLE — forms of photos via social media. More than once, I’d been thwarted in my attempts to keep up with a reporter’s breaking-news coverage by an old-timey filter applied to an otherwise perfectly usable photo. Very frustrating. Very irritating. Very avoidable. Can’t say I’ve ever really had many issues with photos transmitted via Twitter, Facebook, G+, Tumblr, etc., and if anyone ever invents a filter-removing app, be sure to let me know ASAP.
It also didn’t help that Instagram was beyond my reach for so long. Without an iPhone at my disposal, I’d only recently been granted access to the app as a Droid user. (Oh, yeah! My new iPad has a camera. I keep forgetting that…)
But still, given its popularity, I felt compelled to download the app and give it a test-drive — and hopefully come away with some sort of practical use for it.
Ironically, the first such practicality I found was in its shape:
A square photo, it’s perfect for instant icons — a phenomenon I think I’d already been observing in people’s profiles without making the connection.
The rest of it — filters, filters and more filters — just seemed like fun more than anything else. Not that I’m anti-fun. And, I have to admit, even the most basic of filters made my photos looks prettier than the Droid’s default settings (which are pretty much hideous). Still, a few frustrations, in no particular order:
1. Instagram-ified photos don’t instantly load to my G+ photo feed; only the originals show up in my “from phone” feed. Disappointing, given that the files are saved as separate images once I’ve uploaded them to Instagram. Seems like this one could be remedied with a little corporate cooperation (note my optimism).
2. No selective posting for your main feed. Not posting Instagram-ified photos to your feed, or posting them only to certain people, isn’t an option for Instagram like it is for every other social media with which it’s integrated. What can I say? Sometimes I don’t feel like inundating my work peeps with pictures of my nephews, regardless of how unbelievably cute they are. Hopefully, since Facebook finally figured out Google+ was onto something there, maybe Instagram’s not far behind in adopting this trait from its new parent.
iPhone and Droid versions NOT created equal. Nevermind; apparently there was an update posted last week that catches up the Droid version with the features that have been available for iPhone for some time, namely the blurring tool. But I’m still going to rant a little on this one: The iPhone version allows you to apply the filters ahead of snapping the photo; the Droid version uploads the photo — and decides the crop for you — before you ever get a chance to apply and tweak a filter. Not sure if that’s Droid’s fault or Instagram’s, but as a user, all that techno-bullying seems to lend credence to the stereotype that iPhones are for creatives and Droid doesn’t get it. IMHO, an app shouldn’t get to decide that.
OK, so iPhones take prettier (and smaller) photos. iGetIt. But isn’t that all the more reason to prioritize Droid users to get access to all the bells and whistles ahead of the iPhone? Is it really necessary to show one platform preference so far ahead of the other? Can’t we all just get along? Technologically, economically and whatever other nerd-ally, the answer may just have to be “no,” but it’s not going to stop me from asking — OK, whining — about it.
4. No desktop version. OK, I get that the whole thing is driven by mobile phone photos. But every social media platform out there lets its users have access to their feeds via a desktop dashboard of some kind — even FourSquare, for crying out loud! When I hit roadblocks or have to come up with my own workarounds just to access/flip through my own feed, the sour grapes feel a little more justified.
About.me seems to have figured out a way to create a specific user’s feed, so… Instagram, please give me a fully automated stream linked to the username you made me create. Please figure out a way to still stand a little bit on your own and let me have a place to more easily find folks to follow that’s not Facebook. Please provide me with an entry point from which I can quickly retrieve digital versions of my Instagram photos. Please allow me my own personal photo stream I can link to and/or Storify. Please. Pretty please?
4a. Storify favors bonafide instagr.am links. That’s all the more reason to give users a more direct line of access to their photos. Without a home page or a main feed, you have to seek out the genuine Instagram links yourself, or pay an ugly toll: those big black strips on each side bookending your pics like a reverse letterbox. Dang it. No direct access to my Instagram photos makes for one annoying circle: a bit of a search, followed by up to three clicks through the catchall “album” I set up in Tumblr or a magically appearing Facebook album before I’ve got access to a specific photo OF MY OWN, just so I can throw it into a Storify. Phew.
5. Instagr.am links don’t draw enough attention to the caption. By now, Instagram, you don’t really need to be so in-your-face about promoting your own app. Users’ words should be bigger than the promotional text that appears on every single instagr.am pic out there. Frankly, I expect more from an app that supposedly promotes creativity.
Fix a couple of the above items, Instagram, and I promise I’ll stop calling you a fad… to your face…
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Those shortcomings aside, I set out on a recent vacation back to the homeland determined to find ways Instagram could prove useful. After a bit of practice, I found I was able to use it to tell stories.
OK, so this first one was more like a poem — if that:
My second attempt was a bit better, or at least more informational. (Mouse over the pics for semi-informative captions.)
The Storify version(s) is still a better read, of course, since you can include many more details. But, among other issues I have with Storify, it seems I’ve looped back around to one of my top Instagram beefs, as mentioned above: does not compute.
So I guess in the end, I’m still not a huge fan. I don’t always even remember to use it. But I’m trying to keep after it — with an open mind.
Prove me clueless
If you’ve got few super cool newsy Instagram examples, I’d love to see them. I’m always willing to be wrong.
If you’re pretty new to the medium, you might actually remember. But if you’ve been using it awhile, you probably don’t recall, and certainly don’t have the time to go traipsing back through hundreds — or thousands, in the case of some of you — of tweets to track down the origin of this particular online identity.
An early adopter myself, I admit I initially was not a huge fan of the Twitter. And yet, I’m on track to hit my 2,000th tweet sometime this week — if I keep at it. That might seem like a lot to you, but I assure you I’m no aficionado, and really, for as long as I’ve had an account, my numbers should probably be at least twice that by now. More than a few folks I’ve been following the longest have tweeted two, four and even 10 times more than that — with few RTs and no assist from auto-feeds.
Not that it’s a race, by any means. And not that quantity means quality, either.
No matter what tweeting milestone you’re approaching, everyone has room for improvement or can learn something new. That’s the thing about social media: Ever-changing. Ever-evolving.
So if you think you’re expert already, I invite you to open up your Twitter feed, do a quick scroll down through 20-30 of your tweets, then ask yourself these questions:
- Did you encounter 10 or more links?
- Did you have to scroll down to find your own icon in front of a tweet?
- Did you encounter 10 or more “RT”s?
- Did you encounter a tweet from last month?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re in need of Twitter tune-up, Social Media Month-style. Whether you’re due for a review or need a little push, I encourage you to dive into this collection of my Social Media Month Twitter posts, in no particular order:
- It’s a useful crowdsourcing tool, and that prompting comments can give you a head-start on a future Storify.
- Re-creating retweetable story links. (To be fair, this was more of a lesson in NGPS, with a payoff for Twitter.)
Just a little more than a month ago, on somewhat of a whim, I declared April to be Social Media Month, giving myself license to pelt my readers — and my coworkers — with daily social media-related challenges.
About a week prior, I had rounded up as many of my coworkers as possible to get social media training from Mandy Jenkins, who had graciously extended her training tour of points southwest to include stops in L.A. and the Inland Empire. On top of that, she had tailored her presentations to the specific needs we had identified for each cluster of Los Angeles News Group papers. Needless to say, there was a lot of information to take in, digest and absorb.
Though she made her presentations readily available to us on various sites, I felt compelled to round up the information for my colleagues and pass along a summary. Standard recap protocol, no?
As I sat down to write the summary, I could feel the futility emanating from the screen. One email, one shot, and it was over. If it was read at all, it would be forgotten in short order. That’s just how it works.
If there was any hope the information would really sink in, something else had to be done. Something more active.
Inspiration: Instagram. (That’s ironic for reasons I’ll share in another post.)
A good chunk of my coworkers had recently jumped on the Photo A Day “challenge” bandwagon Instagram had put forth. Though not really a huge fan myself for reasons I’ll get into some other time, I had to acknowledge the gimmick had sparked interest from folks I’d never expect would jump on board.
So, I decided to attempt the same concept. For a full month, I would email my coworkers daily (though only once on the weekends) challenging them to adopt and apply the concepts Mandy had passed along to us. It would be a commitment on my part, too, but I felt it worthwhile, and I was willing to give it a shot.
I pondered a points system to keep track of and reward active participation. But, to be honest, I barely had enough time to issue the challenges and felt I was already cutting corners on the promotional aspects.
Was it worth it? Was Social Media Month a success? I’d have to say a sheepish “yes.” My blog saw more steady traffic than it’s seen since its creation, and traffic data showed the challenges were getting the attention. Not a ton of reads, but enough to know some folks out there were paying attention. That, and some of the questions I was getting from coworkers indicated I was getting through here and there.
And even if they weren’t, the exercise helped me build a catalog of basic resources readily available for people who might not want to ask “silly” questions. That also offers me room to up my game and move on to more “advanced” challenges.
The month ended with little fanfare or even mention. You could argue I dropped the ball; certainly, I had been inconsistent in a few things during the process — not for a lack of a know-how, but at some level, I just didn’t have the energy to be at the very tip-top of my game. What can I say? I’m human. I have flaws. And in my defense, I’d just come back from vacation and hadn’t yet caught up on a few priorities trumping my blog.
But the excuses end there.
Ironically, I had a couple of inquiries this past week for a Social Media Month recap or cheat-sheet. I imagine I’ll get around to that, but I think I’m going to have parcel that information as well, and likely here.
Social Media Month — in all its glorious unofficialness — might be behind us, but it’s not over.