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The Digital Divide

Technology and the Internet are not for everyone. My grandmother, who is a very young 96 years old (sorry for the reveal, Grandma!), often asks me about what my job entails. Trying to explain managing of social medias, reading applications digitally and in general, working in a paperless environment is very difficult to explain. My grandmother is a very intelligent woman – She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1938. She went on to be the director of different YMHAs (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) in Philadelphia and Montreal. Grandma even wrote a letter of recommendation for Henry Kissinger enabling him to get his first job. She sees technology as a burden more than help. I believe that the reason for this is not due to the fact that she is 96, but it is the fact that she never wanted to have anything to do with it. In the early 80’s, my grandfather purchased computers for himself and his two children. She never learned how to use it then, and then figured, “what is the point?”

This “digital divide” or lack of digital literacy is an issue. As technology moves forward, we need to bring our citizens forward, as well. As I said before, my grandfather purchased computers for my family in the early 80’s. He actually made this purchase for my family on the day I was born. I therefore have literally had access to a computer in my house hold my entire life. As new technology developed, I couldn’t wait to explore it and learn how to use it. To this day, my parents call me for my “expertise” on tech when they are making a purchase, or something “breaks” (i.e. they can’t figure out how to replicate something I showed them how to do). Again, my parents are intelligent people, but have been moving forward only as much as they have wanted to with learning new technology. They are now both proud owners of laptops – which they sit at their desks and use. My father has recently discovered YouTube.com and has asked me on a few different occasions if I would come over and “watch a video with him.” I typically humor him and go to his house and watch said video with him. I don’t mind, actually, because my father has a fantastic laugh that is frankly quite addicting.

My point is, we cannot blame age for the divide in digital literacy. However, people should also not see age as a reason to steer clear of learning how to use a computer, having an email address, using social media, etc. There are certainly benefits to each no matter your age or level of computer knowledge. I understand some apprehension for using online banking or securing other personal items and documents through the web. But this demographic of non-computer users should at least have a place they can go and become educated about the dangers, the issues they should not be concerned with, and just in general, how to become more techno-savvy.

I recently stumbled across just the answer for these concerns. Eureka, someone else has had a similar observation. The Rutland Free Library and Department of Labor (DOL) have actually been doing digital literacy programming for quite some time, specifically working with computer novices to assist in their job search and application process, basic services such as unemployment and food stamp registration, as well as how to effectively use computers and the Internet.

The newest addition to this line of programming in the Rutland area comes from VTel (Vermont Telephone Company). They were recently awarded a $116 million dollar grant to build wireless broadband, fiber, and 4G infrastructures in Vermont. A portion of this grant was also dedicated to addressing gaps in digital literacy.

VTel contacted the Rutland Free Library to ask if they were interested in hosting some workshops. Quickly discovering that other key players in the area were also working to address these issues, such as DOL and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC), a partnership was soon born. The Godnick Adult Center and the Housing Authority were also brought on board.

This coming Wednesday, June 6 from 10:30 am to noon, the Godnick Adult Center will be hosting a social networking workshop to see how sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can help you connect with friends and family. Other classes involve using the Internet for searches, free Internet tools, and one-on-one computer coaching.

These programs are not just happening in Rutland. Chester, Hartland, Pawlet, Saxtons River, Springfield, Wallingford, and Windsor are all additional locations where such programs are taking place.

Take advantage of the free programs in your area. For a complete list of programs, please visit or contact your local library. Ironically, you can also visit http://www.vermonttel.com/tech and click on the town you are interested in on the left.

This post originally appeared in the Monday, June 4th edition of the Rutland Herald. Visit the Herald online at http://www.rutlandherald.com.

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Community, Internet, Vermont

 

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don’t underestimate the internet

The power of a single person on the Internet has become more and more apparent. Companies and governments are not safe from the people.  Something that social marketing consultants, like myself, will often remind their clients of is the difference between traditional marketing and social marketing. Traditional marketing is one-sided. You create your brand and present it to the public. You tell your consumer what you want to and can control your message. Social marketing has turned the tables into a multi-sided conversation. Although you can still create your branding and the image you want to project, ultimately your customers will respond to your message and want to interact with you. Positive interaction is then promoted, viewed, and passed on to friends. It is like trackable word of mouth. And how your company handles your negative interactions is also scrutinized and passed on.

The power that I am talking about is how much of a voice the Internet has given back to the public. Let’s jump around a bit and look at some of these phenomena.

SOPA and PIPA

As I spoke about a few weeks ago in my post, SOPA stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” This was a proposal that was moving towards becoming a law at the federal level, supposedly about Internet piracy. The problem with this, was the wording was incredibly vague and appeared to severely restrict Internet usage.

On January 18, 2012, multiple sites, including the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, WordPress, and over 7,000 other websites participated in either a service blackout or made some sort of post or movement on their sites to raise awareness of the dangerous of these acts. Google also had a petition that gained over 7 million signatures. Boycotts happened of companies that supported the legislation, state representatives were contacted, and an offline rally was even held in New York City.

What happened next was amazing. Representatives and companies that had supported the bills the day before started backing off of them and slowly, the acts came off the table. This does not mean that the ideas behind legislation is completely gone, but it was an incredibly show of what people on the Internet could do together.

Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

On January 31, 2012, the Susan G. Komen organization, a breast-cancer organization in the United States, cut off its funding of Planned Parenthood. While many anti-abortion groups applauded the move, the public was not impressed. Women’s advocacy groups were fast to criticize the move, stating that the Komen organization was putting politics ahead of women’s health. The following 24 hours generated a lot of buzz around the Internet. $400,000 was given to Planned Parenthood from over 6,000 donors. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pledge a grant of $250,000 that matched a gift from the CEO of Bonanza Oil Co. They did this to replace the funding that was lost.

On February 3, 2012, just three days later, Komen’s board of directors issued a statement apologizing to the American public. They backed down from their previous statement, and instead said they would continue to fund exisiting grants, including Planned Parenthood. Four days later, on February 7, the director of Komen submitted her resignation, which went into effect immediately.

And these aren’t the only examples, and it is certainly not ONLY happening in the United States. In 2011, Tunsia decided it was time to boot out dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Social media and the Internet played an encouraging role in the success of their protests. Wikileaks released internal United States government that confirmed that the people in the US felt the same about Ben Eli as the people in Tunsia did. Hacker group Anonymous also supported the cause by not only defending Wikileaks, but hitting Tunsia websites, as well.

So how did the Internet get so much power? Why are governments, both democracies and other forms of governments alike, afraid of these Internet driven causes? Personally, I think that there are several factors that contribute to this fear. In democracies, the leaders, in order to stay in any sort of seat in power, need to listen to the citizens that voted them into power in the first place. I think that it is amazing that the “government for the people, by the people” is starting to circle around and bring some of the decision influences back down to the citizen level.  Also, I think the simple fact that “word of mouth” doesn’t take very long to spread any more. We can know what is happening in the world, including protests, news, causes, epidemics…in a matter of minutes.

To bring this to a local perspective, think back to the day Tropical Storm Irene hit the area. There were pictures of every corner on town, people were sharing what roads were destroyed and to avoid, and even seeking help out of their house.  I think back even further to 2007 when we had that terrible wind storm in April. Just 5 years ago, there were many fewer local people on Facebook and the same volume of sharing online didn’t happen.  After the wind passed, everyone was out in their cars surveying the damage. With Irene, you already had seen the damage as it was being caused right on Facebook.

Now, local businesses and organizations need to utilize the power of these mediums. Engage your followers. Post interesting and informative information. Support other businesses and organizations through your page. If you are posting interesting and informative information, fans or followers that find this information interesting will often repost or retweet the information, which will cause a ripple of effect, generating more followers and passing on your information to more people.

Continue to may attention to what’s happening online, no matter your career. Chances are, it does affect you, and your action may make all the difference. For your pages and posts, make them engaging and interesting. You never know the full power of how your content may take off.

(Research from wikipedia.org and motherjones.org.)

 

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the power of the tweet

Last week, I wrote about Twitter; what it was and how to use it effectively. The perfect example of a great social media manager appeared in front of me this morning. A real life example popped up right out of the wood work.

I was looking at my Twitter feed this morning (my personal one), and noticed a tweet from one of my friends frommy undergraduate days at Hofstra. She posted a picture that she took with her phone from a page of Newsday. They had incorrectly labeled a picture of Amber Heard as Scarlett Johansson. I had no idea who Amber Heard was (and still don’t), and tweeted back at her, commenting on the obvious mistake the paper made. She quickly responded back to me, that she also had no clue who the girl was, and perhaps made a snide comment towards the graphics person at Newsday. In all three of the tweets that I’ve mentioned so far, Newsday’s Twitter username, @Newsday, was mentioned (therefore, tagged and received notifcation that we were discussing them). They almost immediately responded to our tweets and fixed the issue that my friend Tara had pointed out minutes before. See a full list of the conversation and images below:

Content from Twitter. Screenshots assembled from the tweets of @ordinary_girl84, @mungerette, and @Newsday.

I was very impressed with this whole exchange. Tara and I were talking pretty candidely about the mistake that Newsday had made, but not degrading them. We just were commenting on the situation and were a little surprised that the photo could have been labeled incorrectly. Now, I can’t tell if they fixed this earlier than Tara had pointed it out (which is entirely possible), and just didn’t point out the mistake themselves until they realized readers were noticing. But what I am impressed with, is the extent to which their social media manager was paying attention to their mentions and responding to them.  Actually, if you go to their Twitter page, you will see that they are very good about engaging their readers. Their page is full of tweets of stories, yes, but also responding to readers and retweeting followers tweets.

All businesses/organizations should engage users like this. This is one of the main ideas that I should have covered last week: the difference between Facebook and Twitter etiquette. The main difference between these two different platforms is on Facebook, pages do not want to over post.  It is completely possible to overpost and depending upon what kind of business you have, and what is going on in your community would determine an appropriate amount of posts per week. For example, a news source, such as the Rutland Herald or WCAX should post top stories and important news throughout the day. A retail shop, for example, should post at most two or three times a day, and space them appropriately. Now, during Tropical Storm Irene, and the time immediately following, many pages posted multiple times a day, such as Restoring Rutland, I Am Vermont Strong, and Vermont Emergency Management. These organizations/groups were incredibly active and trying their hardest to get all information out that they could. This was incredibly appropriate. On a normal basis, however, Facebook posting should be very pointed and planned. Facebook users are incredibly active and are quick to “un-like” a page due to over posting.

On the other hand, Twitter etiquette is much different. Many entities on the site post multiple times a day, sometimes a minute, and are praised for it, not chastised. I think this stems from part of Twitter’s function and layout. Since they allow only 140 characters a tweet and don’t have additional apps or all the “extras” that make Facebook “busy,” this allows a user to focus on their feed and the feeds of people or other groups that they are interested in. I am not in any way demeaning the use of Facebook, because they definitely have a huge fan base, and the benefits of being active and on Facebook can easily be evaluated and reaped. Twitter just allows you to present the same information, and more information, in a different format that is more susceptible for this information to be shared and absorbed by the followers.

The downside of Twitter in our local area at this time? Users. Although many organizations are on Twitter, it seems that there currently is not a clear way to find these pages. The best way to have local users find you, is by using the local Rutland hashtag (again, a hashtag is a way of organizing and categorizing tweets) which is #rutvt. This can be used for anything that is happening in the local area, and I would go as far to say the county. When you are talking about your business, or talking about some event or commenting on something that is going on in the area, use the hashtag. Then, you should search for the hashtag and see what other pages and people are using it and talking about the area on Twitter.  I think you will actually be surprised about the number of users in the county.

Use your social media platforms well! Please make sure to understand the etiquette of each platform, as they certainly differ, or else you run the risk of putting a lot of work in to your social media management, and will not see a lot of return. Remember: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” (Scott Cook)

 

 

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reunion time: in person or online?

It is the end of the 2011 and high school reunions are in the air. The Rutland High School class of 2001 has made its way home this week to celebrate their ten year reunion. But in an age where social media is readily available and anyone can easily connect and essentially “stalk” almost every member of their class, what is the importance of these personal encounters?

As you may know, I have a Master’s degree in Media Studies, focusing on Online Marketing and Social Media. I am very much an advocate for the importance and usefulness of these mediums, and see them emerging and developing even more over the next decade. People who know me personally, know that I am a very social being. I love personal contact and could certainly end up on the phone with you for hours at a time, talking about everything and nothing at all once. My ten year high school reunion will come at some point in 2012, and I honestly can not wait. Yes, I have been keeping tabs on people I graduated high school with through various social medias, but nothing can replace those one on one conversations.

We all know high school is tough, mostly because people are attempting to figure out who they are, what their styles are, how to be a good friend, a good member of society, how to be the best them they can be. There are people I interact with now whose paths never crossed mine in high school for one reason or another. I am interested in how different people have grown, what their lives are like, how maybe our lives have changed and morphed in ways that we now have a million things in common and will become good friends.

Tonight, for example, I was out on the town with friends of mine. Looking around at us interacting, you would think we had all grown up together and been friends for years. Honestly, I have only been a part of this “group” of friends for a little over a year. Only one member of the group was I friends with in high school, and our relationship has certainly only grown stronger in the passing years. The remainder of the group of friends all grew up in the Rutland area, but we were not friends in high school. These new friendships did not spring up through social media “meet-ups,” although we do all use social media to communicate with each other, to plan events, and a few of us use social media in our jobs, even. This is one side of the spectrum.

The other side is maybe that witch from high school is still a witch. But her Facebook wall is most likely not going to tell me that, and I would like to give her a chance, in person, to prove she has matured and changed.

I think personal interaction can be viewed as another “medium” of media and communication. Yes, social media has emerged as an important way of receiving news or of keeping up with friends who live far away, but conversation is faster and on different topics when you have the personal communication. Even a media form like Skype, where users can video chat for free, does not replace the organic need for human touch, interaction, and engaged conversation. Similar to the way Google+ works, where you can post certain information to only specific “circles” of friends, is the way that social media versus personal communication works. There are some conversations that I want to have with only my closest friends through the act of discussion. There are some viewpoints, discussions, and stories that never need to make their way into print. You, being human, surely agree with this statement.

RHS’s class of 2001 only used Facebook to contact its members. I have to say, that it is likely the most affective way to reach most people. I say most because there are those diehards from that class (like my husband) who do not subscribe to social media and prefer only personal interaction (lumping phone calls and texts into this category). I think that this still works, because even though he is not on Facebook or Twitter, or any other social media platform, I am and several of his friends are, linking him back into the conversation.

The point I am trying to make is, perhaps social media, instead of replacing the high school reunion, is actually helping to enhance it. For those who can not make it home for their reunion, Facebook will let them know who is going to be there and let them reconnect with someone from their past through the platform. Twitter will allow live tweeting of the event, if someone chooses to do so. Both of these mediums will also encourage, and I guarantee it will happen, the immediate posting of pictures, so the classmates who are missing the event will seemingly still be apart of the buzz and be able to see what went on very easily.

Social media is helping to back up and increase the value of these interpersonal live communications. I encourage you to reconnect with someone from your past using the social media tools that are available to you, and plan a time to meet up with them in person. Nothing beats throwing back a drink or grabbing a coffee with an old friend.

 
 

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