Website and Social Media Ramblings, Part Deux
By Mark Marchand
Several months ago I posted some personal observations of “worst practices” when it comes to using social media and the World Wide Web. I try to keep up with trends in this space as part of my overall writing/consulting work, and teaching as an adjunct professor in the Journalism Department at the University at Albany (SUNY). Social media and use of the Web has moved front and center when it comes to communication in a 21st century world filled with myriad ways to instantly send and obtain information. My first post tried to answer this question: “Why do I lose followers or friends, or why doesn’t anyone ‘like’ my stuff or post comments?” Since then, I’ve collected a few more thoughts. Without further ado…
Pay to play
I love social media as a news aggregator. I pre-program my Twitter and Facebook pages to find and show me news that might interest me. But many newspapers and other online news sources now charge a subscription fee. As the printed newspaper and magazine business has withered, many companies require readers to pay a fee to read articles on their websites. That’s certainly understandable since the economic model of the news business shifts almost daily. But please don’t share, post, or Tweet a link to a news article located on a site that requires a fee to read the article. You’ll only spark frustration among your friends and followers. You might even lose some of them in the process. I certainly won’t be moved to subscribe to read an article, and I suspect most others won’t either. If you feel you must share a link to one of these so-called “paywall” sites, tell us up front it requires a subscription. And don’t even think of this mechanism as a way to build online subscriptions to a site. It’s not happening. Coda: A local newspaper with a mixed paywall site has a section on the homepage entitled “premium content free to subscribers.” Perhaps better to delete the word “free” since that content isn’t really free?
Which “next” button do I press?
As I stated in my previous post on the topic, I abhor clicking on an interesting link on Twitter or Facebook only to find I must click “next” 20-30 times to see a list of compelling items. Best cities for retirement, top colleges and universities, most popular dogs, etc. The intent is clear: Generate more “clicks” and views to show advertisers. There’s a new wrinkle: I’ve visited dozens of sites recently where I’m presented with two or three sets of “next” buttons or arrows. I’m not sure which one will take me to the next item. If I select the wrong one, I’m taken to a new page that’s just advertising and has nothing to do with the list I wanted to see. This is irritating and it’s hard to find your way back to the original site. Most times I abandon my visit to the list after one or two attempts to hit the correct button or arrow, and I suspect that’s true for most. Don’t fall for this and, even better, don’t send your social media buddies to these sites.
Boring people in business suits
I see this almost daily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Someone I follow posts a picture of a special lecture or panel discussion, showing people talking in front of a room. Boring. At its worst, the folks who do this don’t even supply names. Instead they say something like “…group of experts on panning for gold speaks to our group…” How is this interesting? If I want to look at pictures like this, I’ll pull out the latest Macy’s flyer and flip through for new business attire. If you must do this, supply me with some names, interesting details, and maybe even a link where I can read more about these people. Maybe you could even show these experts interacting with members of your group afterward, when they might be smiling and gesticulating while talking to attendees. Ask a newspaper editor sometime what he or she thinks of “grip and grin” photos. The same applies here.
Leave the trolling to monsters under the bridge
I recently posted a Facebook comment on a New York Times article about a famous actor pulling a controversial film from a movie festival in lower Manhattan. It was a film that advanced the long-discredited notion that vaccines that save millions of lives are responsible for poisoning us or causing severe brain development conditions such as autism in children. My post simply said I would take advice on the topic from the thousands of doctors and scientists who developed and recommend vaccines vs. an actor suggesting the so-called “documentary” raised “important questions” we should all consider. That horse left the barn years ago when the one allegedly scientific study that fueled all the anti-vaxx nonsense was retracted by the British journal that published the study. The doctor who wrote the faked paper lost his license. One person who commented on my comment accused me of being heartless and suggested I would feel differently if I talked to the parent of an autistic child. I actually have. He did his best to make me feel guilty, but as police officers advise in cases of road rage, move on. So move on I did. I am well read on the topic and I know autism is a cruel disorder that heartlessly robs children of their ability to develop normally and to interact effectively with their family and others. One of the most touching treatments of the topic was a 60 Minutes piece on award-winning journalist Ron Suskind and the book he wrote about his own autistic son. In his book, Suskind shows how his son’s love of Disney movie characters lead to a breakthrough that changed all their lives. Wonderful story. Please do post comments, but make sure your commentary is well-grounded and advances the discussion instead of steering it toward the bottomless pit of ugly commentary known as politics and elections. Trolls thrive there.
Hitting a moving target
We’ve all been there. We land on a newspaper page and scroll through, looking for interesting articles. Just as you’re about to click on a headline, the page moves and you end up clicking on a (gasp) advertisement. When this happens 2-3 times on a site, I bail. Think “whack-a-mole.” One local daily where I live does this so much I have stopped visiting their site. This apparently happens when, after a few seconds on the newspaper’s home page, a new ad appears on the top and pushes content down. This always seems to occur just when I’m hovering my mouse arrow over something interesting. It’s a bad practice. I’m generally okay with it because I know it helps pay for the content I’m reading. But vote with your feet: Avoid sites that do this frequently. If you are someone who helps maintain such a site, stop it and you’ll discover more people like me staying for longer periods of time. Finally, don’t send your social media followers and friends to these sites.
Friend, foe, or retailer?
Where I live in upstate New York we have a new neighborhood email exchange board and Facebook page. People swap information and alerts on everything from lost dogs and cats to recommendations on plumbers, contractors, and lawn services. What a wonderful use of the Internet! Lately, though, we’ve seen some small but disturbing trends that have caused me to reflect on whether I will still participate. First, on the neighborhood email exchange, a sort of electronic bulletin board, a few members started to sell things. Initially it was used stuff hanging around the garage. That’s fine. But then we started to see some members advertising their businesses, services, or new goods. That’s not useful information — that’s taking advantage of a free forum to advertise. The community Facebook page has grown fast too, but on a few occasions lately I wondered if we’d see things devolve into disparaging political rants. One person posted a notice about free tickets to a campaign rally for a Republican whose name starts with “T.” That was sort of okay (the post, not the candidate), but then someone else replied by making ugly comments about our 44th president. Fortunately most participants ignored the rant and swapped notes on how to pick up the tickets, etc. If you want to maintain these mechanisms as useful neighborhoods sites, don’t turn them into commercial ventures or, worse, ugly political diatribes. In case you haven’t noticed, we have enough of that these days.
Reminders and updates from my first post on the topic
- Check out the new AP Stylebook changes on references to the Internet and World Wide Web. There’s some important changes there.
- The problem of “serial tweets” rages on. Please stop it. This occurs when a journalist or a blogger you follow on Twitter is reporting on a live event. They crank out dozens and dozens of updates on what people at the event are saying and doing. Given the 140-character limit for tweets, most of us plodding through our Twitter feeds have no idea about the topic. We’d have to scroll all the way back to the original tweet to discover the subject. Find a way to add a hashtag or phrase that reminds the reader in each tweet what you’re talking about. And acronyms you made up just for the event don’t count.
- Stop swearing on social media. Each time you press the “post” or “send” button, think about future employers, friends, family members, or perhaps even spouses who might read it. A newly discovered online F-bomb or crude sexual reference can easily wreck career or wedding plans.
- Finally, please give me a caption and names when you post photos. I’m interested, but when I don’t know who I’m looking at I move on. Worse, I (and I suspect many others) might even unfollow you because without detailed captions your photos aren’t interesting, entertaining, or informative. Whether you’re doing the posting for your employer or yourself, you’re creating a useful historical record that you can use years from now. Add some detail. Tagging people on Facebook too really helps.
Comments, thoughts, suggestions? Please pass them on.