Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

I taught a class Monday in data visualization for Josh Grimm’s In-Depth Reporting class at LSU.

I’m no expert in data visualization, but I studied the use of interactive databases for the American Press Institute in 2008 and my students experimented with a variety of data viz tools last spring in my course on learning interactive storytelling tools. (I’ll add some links to the students’ posts on data-viz tools later, but I want to get this published now and I won’t have time to add links until later.)

My point in this class is that you can tell stories lots of different ways using data, and that you can teach yourself pretty easily how to use some effective data viz tools. I admire the skills of some data specialists I know, and hope some of our students will follow them into that specialty. But I hope every student (and professional) journalist develops data skills to find and tell stories routinely.

Examples I used in the class (and a few I didn’t have time to use):

Thanks to Kyle Whitfield, Mark Lorando, Tom Meagher, Maryjo Webster, Daniel Tedford, Kevin Dupuy and Michelle Rogers for providing these examples.

I collected information from the students using a Google Form and used it to create some data visualizations about the class using Infogr.am and Google Maps. I was running out of time and rushed through these pretty quickly, but you can make pretty simple graphics quickly using these tools. I elaborate a bit more here on some of them.

I wasn’t able to embed the resulting Infogr.am graphics in my free WordPress blog (they should embed on most websites). Here are some screen grabs of the graphics (with links below to the interactive versions):

Infogram devices

You can see the interactive version of the graphic on devices here.

This pie chart, I noted, would be more effective with graduated shades (perhaps yellow to red) than the random colors assigned to each number:

number of devices

In a graphic about the students’ use of social media, I tried different data viz tools offered by Infogr.am. This line chart didn’t work for me (though it might work for other detail). An effective graphic makes a point quickly and this one requires some study:

infogram line graph

This horizontal bar graph also took a bit of work to understand, but quickly shows that the most popular social tools with the students are Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and that the students aren’t using Foursquare at all. The graphic on devices was filled out later, when I had 26 responses instead of 24.

I deliberately didn’t update this because it actually illustrates some points you need to check in doing data visualization: The data need to be accurate. My first take of this didn’t have fully accurate data: You can see that I only have 23 responses, instead of 24, on Snapchat and Instagram. Actually, I had 24 responses at the time, but failed to double-check my data before uploading it for the graphic. These are the kinds of errors you need to avoid and double-checking you need to do both before uploading data and after finishing a visualization project.

infogram bar chart

The most effective graphic on social networks, I thought, was this layered pie chart, where you can (in the interactive version, not the screengrab below) see how differently students use the social tools. It would have been more effective, though, with a gradual color scale, perhaps with yellow for 1, orange for 3 and red for 5, with shades in between at 2 and 4. But I was trying to show how quickly you can make a simple graphic. That’s the first step in data visualization. I’d expect such improvements in subsequent projects.

infogram pie chart

Moving to Google Maps, I quickly imported information from the spreadsheet of student responses to create a map showing where the students were from (that embed works here):

During the class, Deanna Narveson did a quick data viz project on social media engagement by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates:

Dashboard 1

Here are my slides from the class:

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A sponsored post in my Facebook news feed Nov. 13.

A sponsored post in my Facebook news feed Nov. 13.

I can’t figure out whether all the data that Amazon and Facebook have about me is scary or laughable.

But I know this: Surveillance of my Internet use isn’t the best way to sell me stuff.

Several years ago, I noticed a vendor in Washington’s Eastern Market who sold purses for women made from hardback book covers. My grandmother, Francena Arnold, was a successful author of Christian romance novels, so I ordered her first and best-selling novel, Not My Will, from Amazon and had a purse made for Mom (I couldn’t find a hardback edition available today).

For months afterward, I got emails from Amazon urging me to buy other Christian romance novels, even though I’ve never read one that Grandma didn’t write. Proud as I am of her, it’s her genre, not mine. But I get that: I registered with Amazon and bought a book there, and their computer tells them that I might like these other books that people who bought Not My Will also liked. That’s probably a successful use of data most of the time.

Check out the suggestion above from Amazon in my Facebook feed today: Amazon or Facebook or both think I might be interested in buying Pete Rose’s book, My Prison Without Bars. It’s a 12-year-old book, and I don’t know whether I’ve ever ordered a baseball book from Amazon (I usually get my baseball books as gifts), certainly not one that showed any interest in Pete Rose.

Here’s why Amazon and/or Facebook think I might be interested in that book, though: I went to Amazon and grabbed a screenshot of the cover for an Oct. 31 Hated Yankees post mocking Fox Sports for putting Rose and Alex Rodriguez in its pre-game studio during the World Series. I called it the Fox Sports Image Rehab Clinic and posted memes making fun of Rose’s photobomb moment in the studio.

I think Pete Rose is a liar and an embarrassment to baseball, however well he played the game before he started gambling. I didn’t buy the book in 2003 and I’m not going to buy it today. But because I visited that page a couple weeks ago Amazon and/or Facebook think a gentle reminder might nudge me back there to finally buy it.

Other times, when I have actually bought something from Amazon, I’ve seen ads for the same thing shortly afterward on Facebook. These were things that you’d only want one of. Maybe they thought I’d want to give them as gifts?

Another time I searched for an image to use in a smart-ass remark in a Facebook discussion. And Facebook kept showing me the same image for several days after that. (See my discussion of that below.)

It’s creepy that Facebook and Amazon computers know I showed an interest in the Pete Rose book and are trying to figure out how to sell me the book. But I’m not going to get scared until they figure out what to do with this data.



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Six times last week, I taught a class that I first presented last spring when I was interviewing for my current job at LSU: writing for social media.

In the context of a beginning “Media Writing” class that we require of all Manship School of Mass Communication students, I teach the techniques of good writing in the context of social media. While my background is strongest in journalism, I apply the points of the class to other specialties within the Manship School: political communication, public relations and digital advertising.

This is going to be a long post, probably helpful only to mass-comm teachers (or last week’s students who would like a review). But that’s who I’m writing it for, and it’s long because I want to invite you to use some of my slides and points in your classes and/or to invite me to cover these or similar points in your own classes or in a workshop at your university or a conference. Of course, I could adapt the presentation to a professional audience, too.

I will tell about the class mostly through the students’ tweets. At the opening of the class, I assigned students to tweet about my points, ask questions on Twitter, make observations, etc. during the class, so they would be applying the lessons as they were learning them.

Many of my slides from the class will show in the students’ tweets. I will supplement with some of the actual slides that didn’t make it into their tweets. If you want the full slideshow (which I’ve already updated since the last of this week’s classes), I’ve posted it at the end of the post. I welcome and encourage teachers to use the materials here however they are helpful, or to contact me to discuss how to teach this topic in your class.

I’ll add context here and there, but mostly the students will tell the story:

Platform shapes the writing

I start with a discussion of how the nature of a social platform and your audience there shape the writing on the platform: the privacy of Snapchat, the professional nature of LinkedIn, the heavily female user base of Pinterest, the 140-character limit of Twitter, etc.

Social media writing basics

Part of my introduction covered some principles of social-media writing that apply in all situations.

I admit it: I did shout “Squirrel!” in one of the classes to illustrate the many distractions people face as they multi-task social media use into their days.

How to handle opinions

We also discussed how importance context (and your bosses’ expectations are) in learning whether opinions are encouraged, allowed or forbidden in your job.

Writing for memes

Before discussing specific social platforms, I discussed writing for memes, which appear on a variety of social media (and teach writing lessons for a variety of professions).

I always plan to update slides before a class where appropriate, and last week’s World Series win by the Kansas City Royals gave me some great memes to share along with the class (I wore my 2014 World Series t-shirt to Monday’s classes).

A note on updating old examples or visuals for a class or workshop: When I did this class last spring, I used some Rand Paul memes. Ben Carson and Donald Trump hadn’t yet risen to prominence in the Republican presidential race. I updated my slides for last week with memes about both. I’ll use the Carson memes in a later post about how he’s playing on social media and in professional media.

Error pages

I used error pages as another example of social-media-style writing in other contexts than social networks. For instance, the error pages of Clinton‘s and Marco Rubio‘s campaigns use humor in attempts to turn the error-page experience into an opportunity to volunteer or hear the candidate’s message:



Writing for Snapchat

Now we’re into the actual social tools, starting with Snapchat (which the students know much better than I do).

Gathering material to write about

Though the course is about writing, I point out how closely writing and reporting are entwined. Making some points about using social media to gather material for writing, I use some examples from earlier blog posts about how the Denver Post used social media to get a great story and photos about a mountain lion staring a cat down through a glass sliding door in Boulder and a hard-news story about rape and victim-blaming in Torrington, Conn.

I shared Andy Carvin‘s search tip for breaking news stories:

Visuals are important in social-media writing

In social media, I noted, words and your creative use of them can have a visual effect with or without photos:

The tweets above refer to some creative use of returns and a screengrab from a court docket by the Boston Globe’s Hilary Sargent in her coverage of the Dzhokar Tsarnaev trial last spring. Here are two of my slides from Sargent’s tweets:



I show some examples of strong breaking news coverage in tweets:

I talk about how Twitter can help tell an unfolding story:

I tell how Brian Stelter used text messages to tweet the story of the Joplin tornado when he didn’t have enough cell signal to make a phone call or access the Internet.

Twitter helps your writing

I tell how Twitter’s 140-character limit can help your writing:

Even in long writing, a succinct point is important

Toward the end of the class, I make the point that even in longer writing, such as books or political speeches, they should use social-media writing skills to make a memorable, brief point. I use those slides separately in an accompanying post.

‘Be your best self’

In the questions at the end of one class, I passed on this advice from a friend (though I couldn’t remember who). If this is your line, please identify yourself and I will credit accordingly:

Other students’ tweets

We wrap up the course reviewing the students’ tweets and praising them for some that illustrated the very points I had been teaching. You’ve already seen some of the best, but here are some others that I liked:

I don’t actually plan to boast/complain of being blocked, then later whitelisted, by Twitter for tweeting too much. But someone asked whether there was a limit on how much you could tweets, so I confessed to hitting the limit back in 2012:

Unrelated advice on posting photos in social media

If  you look at most of the photos posted above, they could use some tighter cropping. I’ll confess that I don’t edit all photos that I post to social media. The swift posting of live-tweeting in particular doesn’t allow much time for editing photos and keeping up with the story. But editing doesn’t take long. I’d say a quick crop and adjusting the brightness of a dark photo are usually worth the time.

Slides from the workshop:

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Facebook debate

My Facebook profile photo

My Facebook profile photo

Whether you regard Facebook as a beneficial, benign or sinister force in media, your vision probably rests in part on the value of all that data the digital behemoth has about us.

At least 10 Facebook posts this week by me, or posts on my wall by friends, have included some combination of the words Royals, Mets, World, Series, baseball and #TakeTheCrown. And I’ve “liked” many more posts and comments by friends who share my excitement and interest about the World Series. And my profile photo on Facebook shows me wearing a Royals hat. That’s a lot of data telling Facebook what I might have been planning to do tonight.

I do show some political interest on Facebook as well. But any posts I’ve made about the current crop of Republican presidential have been critical or sarcastic in nature and tone.

But when I went to Facebook tonight (to post something about the World Series), Facebook suggested I let my friends know I’m watching the Republican debate. Um. no.

I’m not worried or optimistic that Facebook knows what to do with all that user data it has.

Earlier posts about Facebook

(starting with one just two days ago):

Facebook sucks, except when it doesn’t, like on my birthday

Updated tips for Facebook engagement by newsrooms

Lots of precedent for media dependence on Facebook, including cautionary tales

Why does Facebook keep ignoring my choice of ‘most recent’ posts?

‘Remember when?’ photos have great engagement potential

Facebook engagement lesson: ‘It’s about community’

Community fun drives Facebook engagement

Jeff Edelstein’s Sandy engagement shows how to use Facebook during a big story

Facebook news-feed changes mean newsrooms need new engagement strategies

Facebook engagement tips already working for Register Citizen, Middletown Press

Correction on AP photos: Newsrooms don’t have rights to post them on Facebook

Why does Bill Keller write about Facebook without trying to understand it?

Facebook engagement tips: Use breaking news photos and calls to action

Engage on community Facebook pages, not just your page

Romeo and Juliet on Facebook: great fun and community engagement

Reach out through Facebook to gather information on tragic stories


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Facebook birthdayFB Teresa SchmeddingI whine a lot on Facebook about the user experience there. But not on my birthday.

(Well, a little the morning after my birthday, but more on that later.)

On my birthday yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the well wishes of friends, family, former colleagues and people I’ve never met who somehow connected with me digitally. It’s a wonderful experience and a challenge to keep up with just “liking” each birthday wish, let alone responding to them.

I spent my birthday in the hospital, starting my second stem-cell harvest, so it’s been doubly meaningful (I’m back for more harvest today). A hospital is a boring place to be a patient, never festive on the oncology floor, no matter how kind and attentive the staff (and the staff at Our Lady of the Lake have been terrific). (more…)

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Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

I asked Michelle Rogers to share some links that show the work of the Redding Record Searchlight under the Four Platform Newsroom.

Michelle Rogers was a colleague of mine at Digital First Media, and I’m pleased she has found a new home as Content Editor at the Record Searchlight. In a companion post, her editor, Silas Lyons, answers some questions about the Four Platform Newsroom. Here are the links Michelle shared with me:

Shaping Our Future portal

Facebook group for Shaping our Future

Get Out portal

Facebook group for Get Out

Buttry comment: Facebook groups are great places for engagement about topics or within niches. I belong to several Facebook groups that include some of my most meaningful discussions on Facebook. For an excellent example of a newsroom using a Facebook group to improve its journalism and engagement, read about ProPublica’s Patient Harm group. Back to Michelle and her links: (more…)

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This week I saw a post from a Digital First Media newsroom in my Facebook news feed, and was surprised to see it there. I “liked” dozens of DFM newsrooms during my time there, but don’t particularly care to follow their news that much now.

So I decided to unlike the page. And, while I was at it, I went into the list of pages I liked and decided to unlike a bunch more — at least two dozen, maybe three (it was probably an oversight that I didn’t like all 75 DFM dailies and some weeklies). And most of them, I had no idea I was even following because, well, they never showed up in my news feed. In fact, I’m not sure how that one showed up the other day because I hadn’t seen it in ages. I only recognized two or three of the ones I dropped as occasionally showing up in my feed.*

That illustrates a problem for news brands. I know every one of those newsrooms I unfollowed has staff members faithfully posting all of their stories, or several stories they think have the most appeal, to their Facebook pages daily. And most of their “fans” never see most of their posts.

The most recent estimate I’ve seen of the percentage of fans seeing a typical post was 16 percent, and that was in 2012, and the figure has certainly dropped as Facebook has made several algorithm tweaks, all designed to make it harder for non-paying brands to get their posts seen.

Maybe the number is something like 10 percent these days, but it will frequently be many of the same people, and probably 70 to 80 percent of your fans almost never see a post. They’re surprised when you show up in their news feed, as I was when my former colleagues’ post showed up this week.

But Facebook traffic is growing in importance for news sites. Parse.ly reported last August that Facebook drives 70 million page views a month to news publishers, second only to Google and more than twice as much as Twitter.

In addition, Parse.ly reported this month that stories with a higher Facebook referral rate have a longer shelf life, attracting traffic over more days than stories that don’t get strong engagement. Higher Twitter referral rates also help shelf life, but not as long as on Facebook.

So Facebook is an important source of news-site traffic, but engagement on Facebook is more complicated than simply posting links there (since most people don’t see them). (more…)

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