As our crew of 50-some social media influencers boarded the shuttle (i.e., bus) after the tour of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope mission control, one team member quipped, “Imagine the selfie you could take with that thing.”He was, of course, referring to the awesome power of Hubble, and the incredible images the telescope has captured since its launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.
“Maybe we can. Let’s ask,” I replied with a smile, knowing full well that wasn’t a possibility (after all, Hubble’s telescope is pointing the other way, away from Earth).
I know what some of you are thinking. Why would they want a bunch of social media people like me nosing around behind the 18-foot barricades of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center?
NASA’s social media team has been doing events like this for years: inviting small groups of social media users to experience, firsthand, some of the amazing work NASA is producing.
The hope is that some influencers will walk away and, maybe, do something cool with the experience.
Of course, it’s easier to do something “cool” with the experience when the experience itself is cool.
The entire event focused on space lasers. More specifically, several NASA mission experts showed us how they use, or plan to use, lasers to measure Earth, track satellites and communicate.
Aside from our visit to Hubble’s mission control, we visited with NASA’s ICESat2SFlbengineers (launching in 2018 to measure Earth’s ice), met with GEDI mission directors (launching in 2019 to measure Earth’s terrain), and watched as NASA was preparing future robotic satellite servicing missions.
At sunset, we visited Goddard’s laser ranging facility and watched as NASA tracked satellites in orbit around Earth.
You might be curious where the whole “social media” thing fits in. I was surprised to learn the event was not just about attracting an audience on Facebook and Twitter.
It was more “social” than “social media.” And that’s a good thing.
Jason Townsend, NASA’s social media manager, suggested that these events offer a bit of give and take. NASA gives visitors a glimpse of what’s happening in terms of missions and experiments. Those who attend a NASA social get to take that information and, in Townsend’s words, “do their own thing with it.”
“A comic book illustrator came through one of our NASA social events and ended up making a 30-page comic book on what it’s like to visit NASA,” Townsend said.
For some, attending a NASA social event might lead to a job offer – at NASA. “Others decide they want to work in social media and come to work for [NASA],” Townsend added. “We have a dozen or so people who are alumni of our NASA social program.”
If I could have a second dream job, this would probably be it.
(part one of two): On a whim, I applied for social media credentials for a daylong NASA event at their Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
Complete honesty: I applied and forgot about it.
Aside from maintaining an active Twitter account, sporadic postings to Facebook and other platforms, and writing a once-a-week blog, why would NASA invite the most “nonsciencey” guy to check out their new space lasers?
Yes, space lasers. Cool, right?
But, my official NASA invitation arrived a few weeks ago. To hear my wife tell it, I “totally geeked out.”
“It’s all he’s talked about for the last two weeks,” she said to a friend (with an eye roll).
Yes, I’m excited.
This Friday, I get an “inside-the-gates” look at NASA’s Goddard Center in Greenbelt, Md. I’ll be live-Tweeting, streaming, and generally geeking out all day.
This isn’t the first time NASA has hosted a social media event.
When they have something cool to share (e.g., space lasers), NASA opens its centers and facilities to give a behind-the-scenes look, or as I like to put it, how the rocket science sausage is made.
Jason Townsend, NASA’s social media Manager, explained to me that about 8,000 social media influencers and enthusiasts have attended more that 150 events over the years.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience,” Townsend said. “Everyone gets a slightly different perspective from the same event. And that’s the beauty of the program.”
Anyone with an active social media profile can apply to attend one of these events. Go to nasa.gov/socialmedia and click on “NASA Socials” to find a list of upcoming events for which you can apply.
“We don’t really have preset expectations for what people do at our social events other than we get to show off what we do and that people will take some of that experience and share with it others,” Townsend said. “We’re blown away with what some people come up with.”
Most NASA events are limited to 50 active social media users.
According to a recent “Social” application, NASA is looking for people who “actively use multiple social networking platforms and tools to disseminate information to a unique audience.”
This means NASA wants social media influencers who produce new content with multimedia elements, people can reach a large and “unique audience,” user with an established history of posting content on social media platforms, and with postings that are highly visible, respected and widely recognized.
See my updates and images on Twitter and Instagram at @adamearn. Use @NASAGoddard and the #NASASocial hashtag for updates from others at the event. I’ll also make public posts to my Facebook account.
Next week, I’ll share with you my experience from the trip, including how NASA’s social media team creates engaging content and gets people excited about space exploration.
Type the words “Life Hacks” into your favorite app store search field and you’ll find dozens of apps.
I know this because I’ve downloaded and tested at least two dozen, and about a dozen or so are still on my smart phone.
Some life hack apps look familiar while others have a specific focus.
For example, there are life hack apps available for arts and crafts, foodies, money and investing, health, romance – even pool noodles.
Yes, pool noodles.
According to Wikipedia, a life hack is any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency for the things we do every day.
With so many app store options, one company recently made the decision to change their app name in hopes of standing out in the ever-expanding life hack apps crowd.
It just so happens that life hack app is one of my all-time favorites: Crumblyy.
“There are multiple apps on the Google Play Store with the same name,” said Rahul Maurya, managing partner at TNine Infotech, the company behind Crumblyy. “We’ve been constantly enriching our application with more meaningful curated content and features which are mostly unique.”
“The name change was the need of the hour, to create a brand name of our own which could distinguish us from other similar apps in the life hacks category,” Maurya added.
The name Crumblyy comes from the app’s style of presenting content in short, crisp formats.
Think of their life hacks as small breadcrumbs of information, smart tips and tricks for tackling life’s everyday problems.
Crumblyy offers various categories for hacking life including technology, health and fitness, food and drinks, parenting, money savers, relationships, party hacks, survival, brainy (i.e., beating some of life’s tougher problems), and one of my favorites – daily life solutions – a kind of catch-all category.
For example, in the daily life solutions category, I found this hack:
Nothing kills weeds and keeps them dead longer like white vinegar straight from the bottle.
“With the release of this newer version, we introduced a notification feature and new hacks,” Maurya added.
Personal note: I like the notifications, but some users may not. Follow your device instructions for filtering or blocking unwanted notifications.
The user interface is sleek and simple to use, and boasts a small download size (4.6MB).
Crumblyy has more than 500,000 downloads and a 4.6 star Play Store rating (out of 5 stars).
According to Maurya, a major upgrade to the current version of Crumblyy is in a testing phase.
“We’ll add many new and exciting features into the app like up-voting a hack, reporting a hack, submitting a hack by a user, picture hacks, trending hacks, and many more,” Maurya added.
“Our goal is to make Crumblyy a leader in the short content market in the next year.”
I love my mom, but sometimes her Facebook posts are a little embarrassing.
This is completely her right: to post stuff to Facebook that I find cringe-worthy.
I suspect it’s a right parents have enjoyed for centuries – to say things that will embarrass their kids.
We’re bound to read social media posts from friends and family we find off-putting or embarrassing. We’ve become accustomed to it.
But when those embarrassing posts are about us, and they threaten our reputation, the gloves sometimes come off and things can get messy.
It still begs the question: what should we do about embarrassing posts, especially when they’re about us. Ignore them? Or should we publicly condemn those who made the uncomfortable posts?
In a recent Computers in Human Behavior article, researchers Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch (University of Connecticut), Jeremy Birnholtz (Northwestern University), and Jeffrey Hancock (Stanford University) explored the embarrassment we feel when others post about us on social media.
Birnholtz and Hancock were working on something called ‘butler lies,’ or small polite lies we tell. Like white lies, a butler lie is saying, “I missed your call,” when you just didn’t want to talk.
“Jeff [Hancock] and Jeremy [Birnholtz] did a survey about how people dealt with being embarrassed by others on social media,” Oeldorf-Hirsch said. “Our study was an extension of that survey, to test the effects of various types of embarrassing posts.”
Oeldorf-Hirsch, Birnholtz and Hancock were surprised by the strong physiological reactions people had when an embarrassing act wasn’t actually happening in-person, and the fact that on social media, the audience wasn’t physically present.
In some cases, the person who was feeling embarrassed didn’t even know the audience.
The types of posts their research team used were face-threatening posts. These posts triggered strong feelings of embarrassment, regardless of the content or the type of reputation threat.
“Other-generated, face-threatening posts are posts users make in which they disclose information about other users that contradict what those other users might have disclosed about themselves,” Oeldorf-Hirsch said.
“We certainly found a strong effect overall, but in terms of specific content effects, we may just not have captured the right types of content to find differences.”
The next step might be categorizing what type of content is really embarrassing and what’s not.
Still, when you are embarrassed, you can ignore it or you can do something about it.
“We found that deleting the offending post is the quickest and easiest option,” Oeldorf-Hirsch said.
“We also recommend discussing your feelings about the post with the person who posted it. But do it offline, away from Facebook.”
A growing number of Americans are relying on social media to get their news.
In a recent survey from Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of Americans are reading news on social media, and about 20 percent report going on social media “often” to get news.
These numbers reflect a small increase in people turning to social media since early 2016, during the height of the presidential primaries.
“This growth is driven by more substantial increases among Americans who are older, less educated, and nonwhite,” said Pew report authors, Elisa Shearer and Jeffrey Gottfried.
What’s remarkable is that for the first time in Pew’s research, more than half (55 percent) of Americans age 50 or older reported getting their news on social media. According to the report, that’s “10 percentage points higher than the 45 percent who said so in 2016.”
Social media users under 50 were more likely than older Americans to get their news online. That number hovered around 78 percent, unchanged from 2016.
The report showed marked improvement for social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.
“We first look at the share of each site’s users who get news there,” said Shearer and Gottfried. “Overall ... Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat had an increase.”
In 2013, at least half of Twitter users reported getting news on the microblogging platform. In 2017, with a president who frequently makes announcements on the platform, about three-quarters (74 percent) now report going to Twitter to get news. That’s up 15 percentage points from last year.
YouTube results suggested that about a third of users get news on the video-sharing platform, up from 21 percent in 2016.
News use on Snapchat increased 12 points to 29 percent in August 2017, up from 17 percent in early 2016. This is likely due to an increase in the number of news outlets with enhanced access and features available on Snapchat.
“Growth on these three sites follows investments [media] companies have made over the last year in developing their news usability,” said Shearer and Gottfried.
“Twitter, in addition to getting nearly daily attention from the president’s posts, spent the year promoting the platform’s potential for news publishers and has announced launches for multiple news streaming partnerships.”
Pew researchers noted YouTube’s expanded YouTube TV. The site added a “breaking news” summary on its landing page, and it continues to be used by other groups for sharing information with small, dispersed audiences.
“Snapchat won over a number of big news names this year for its group of Discover publishers,” said Shearer and Gottfried.
Of the remaining sites Pew asked about in its survey, social media users on Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, LinkedIn and Tumblr were just as likely to get news from those platforms as they were in 2016.
Over the past six years, I’ve advised about 300 interns.
Aside from the work they complete at the internship location, students reflect on their experiences in a daily journal and check-in with me once a week to provide an update.
We often discuss workplace concerns.
“My boss ignores me every day,” a student wrote in an email. “When he does talk to me, he’s always looking at his phone instead of at my face. He’s always on his phone.”
She went on to explain that he ignores other interns, too.
“When he’s not around, he texts us instead of calling,” she added. “I think he just doesn’t know what to do with us. I think he doesn’t trust us.”
Her supervisor was phubbing, a portmanteau of the words “phone” and “snubbing.”
According to Meredith David, marketing professor at Baylor University, phubbing refers to the act of snubbing someone you’re spending time with by looking at or being distracted by your cellphone.
Boss phubbing, or Bphubbing, a term coined by David and her colleagues, occurs when a supervisor interrupts face-to-face time with an employee by using or being distracted by a smartphone.
“I started studying the impact of phubbing on individuals and relationships in both personal and workplace settings,” David said. “My research reveals how a behavior as simple as using a cellphone in the presence of others can ultimately undermine individuals’ personal and workplace relationships.”
In the October issue of Computers in Human Behavior, David and her colleagues shared the impact of BPhubbing on employees.
“BPhubbing has a negative impact on employees’ trust in their supervisor, but the negative effects of BPhubbing don’t end there,” David said. “Our results show that, by harming trust in their supervisor, BPhubbing also negatively affects employee engagement.”
Specifically, BPhubbing reduces employee trust in supervisors, which in turn has a negative impact on employee engagement in two ways.
“First, employees who experience BPhubbing, and have lower levels of trust for their supervisor, are less likely to feel like their work is valuable or beneficial to their own professional growth,” David explained.
In turn, employees are less engaged or committed to their work.
“Second, employees who work under the supervision of an untrusted, phubbing supervisor tend to have lower confidence in their own ability to carry out their job,” David said.
Again, this negatively impacts engagement.
Of course, as David notes, most of us have been guilty at some point of looking at our phones rather than paying attention to someone.
“Put away your cellphone in favor of meaningful, distraction-free interactions with your supervisor and coworkers,” he said. “The benefits far outweigh that text message, unread email, or social media post.”
Some two weeks after announcing the discovery of more than 3,000 ads addressing social and political issues central to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has released those ads to groups investigating election-tampering claims.
The ads ran on the Facebook’s platform between 2015 and 2017. According to Facebook attorney Colin Stretch, the ads appear to have originated from accounts associated with a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Russia’s Internet Research Agency created the ads to capitalize on racial and religious tensions leading up to the U.S. election. The agency creates and disseminates fake news that targets domestic and foreign groups and individuals.
In a 2015 New York Times Magazine expose, Adrian Chen wrote, “The [Internet Research Agency] had become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities ... in order to create the illusion of a massive army of supporters; it has often been called a ‘troll farm.’ The more I investigated this group, the more links I discovered between it and the hoaxes.”
Facebook decided it was time to provide information related to those ads, and the ad content, to the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
However, pundits and concerned citizens implored Facebook to share the ad content more broadly. So, Stretch noted that Facebook would share the ads with congressional investigators.
“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened,” Stretch said in an announcement posted to the Facebook newsroom.
This prompted another “Hard Questions” response from Facebook. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you might remember reading my review of Facebook’s “Hard Questions” about the online fight against terrorism, or how the platform handles a deceased user’s profile content.
Elliot Schrage, vice president of policy and communications, addressed “Hard Questions” on the fake news ad content probe, including why Facebook shared the ad content with the special counsel and Congress and not with the general public, and if they expect to find more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts.
“When we’re looking for this type of abuse, we cast a wide net in trying to identify any activity that looks suspicious,” Schrage wrote in his “Hard Questions” post. “Bad actors are always working to use more sophisticated methods to ... cover their tracks.”
Of Facebook’s 1.28 billion daily active users, only 14 responded to Schrage’s post with comments and questions of their own.
Read Schrage’s post and user responses at newsroom.fb.com. Search for “Hard Questions.” You can send question suggestions to Facebook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been using Twitter for the better part of 8 years.
In all honestly, it’s been a love-hate relationship. I can’t fix the things I hate about Twitter, so I use workarounds to avoid mean tweets and unpleasant interactions.
The things I love about Twitter, however, I tend to exploit.
GIFs are excellent example. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m a notorious animated GIF user on Twitter. In fact, most if not all of my tweets in recent months have included an image, video, or animated GIF.
My animated GIF philosophy is quite simple: if a picture is worth a thousand words, then why not use multilayered images? After all, we’re limited to 140 characters on Twitter, and a lot can be misinterpreted without a little extra context.
Not long ago, I posted a tweet without an animated GIF, and a friend replied, “I question whether or not this is the real @adamearn (my Twitter handle). Where’s the meme?” He was referring, of course, to my love of animated GIFs.
According to urbandictionary.com, GIF is the acronym for “graphics interchange format.” Back in the early days of the internet, we used GIF images because they were small, compressed files.
As a webmaster in the mid-90s, I was trying to create beautiful websites that would load on home computers connected to 56k modems (for you youngins, that’s really, really slow).
We used GIFs to make upload and download much faster.
The proper pronunciation of GIF uses a soft “g” sound: like JIF.
Urbandictionary.com notes that, at some point, one of the GIF format creators, Bob Berry or Steve Wilhite said, “Choosy programmers choose GIF.” This was a play on the peanut butter commercials with the slogan, “Choosy moms choose Jif,” referring, of course, to the Jiffy peanut butter brand.
Yet, there’s a weird pronunciation battle that lingers, with soft “g” users on one side and hard “g” users on the other. It’s the web designers equivalent of a West Coast-East Coast rap battle.
Yep, we’re really that cool.
But animated GIFs are a step up from small, static images. These GIFs are actually multilayered images that create the video-like, animated effects we see in memes on Twitter and other platforms.
Like static GIFs, animated GIFs are small files and easy to load.
It’s hard not to want to use them. Ask most Twitter users and they’ll have their favorites.
One of my favorites is “white guy blinking,” an animated GIF of video editor Drew Scanlon blinking in disbelief in reaction to a comment from a video game player.
Open your compose window in Twitter and look for the square GIF icon. From there, you can search for your favorites.
Twitter helps by providing some suggested categories such as “applause” and “YOLO.”
At age 14, Tyler McVicker of Vienna, created Valve News Network (VNN), a YouTube channel devoted to news and information about video games.
More than six years later, McVicker has amassed over 240-thousand subscribers. Subscribers are the lifeblood of video creators who use YouTube channels to earn income.
One of McVicker’s most recent videos, a story related to the first-person shooter game Half Life, received more than 680-thousand views.
McVicker, now a student at Youngstown State University majoring in computer science and journalism, talked with me about VNN and his success on YouTube:
Q: What’s VNN and how did you get started?
A: VNN is a hub where fans can find game information quickly and easily.
When I was 10, I played a video game called Portal. I fell in love. It was completely different from anything I'd ever seen, and I wanted to know as much about it as possible.
When I wasn’t replaying the game, I was trying out levels other players made, or I was reading about Valve Software, the company that created Portal.
I wanted to know everything about (Valve). I figured out the majority of places hardcore fans would discuss news about the game and Valve, and I wanted this share this news with mainstream fans.
So, I started VNN in July of 2011.
Q: VNN has an impressive number of subscribers. What strategies did you use to build your fan base?
A: My subscribers are a surprise to me as well. I don't think I have a real strategy. My entire purpose is to create things that I’d want to watch if I were in the audience.
I love Valve games. I love game development and things cut from games. I love the communities that surround these games, and that result in incredible art and mods (i.e., game modifications). So I make videos that hit on these passions. I feel that the emotion behind the words comes through when I make these videos.
I tend to be as personable as possible. I’m very upfront about who I am, what I do, and what I feel. This does mean people can easily attack me when things aren’t up to a certain standard. But it also allows anyone to be part of the content, to be part of a real community.
Q: What’s your strategy for marketing new VNN content?
A: I don’t promote much. I don’t find I need too. I try to be a real person as much as possible, meaning whenever someone sees my logo, they know exactly what they’re getting when they click it.
Everything has to do with adding as personal of a touch as possible, to allow people to feel welcomed, respected and appreciated.
Q: Do you follow other successful YouTube users? If so, what have you learned from them?
A: Before I started VNN, I watched YouTube everyday. And I still do.
My main inspirations are Ross Scott, LGR (Lazy Game Reviews), Jim Sterling, Jon Jafari, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. More recently, I’ve been watching Joseph Anderson.
I can’t nail down what I've learned from these creators. It’s safe to say that my own format is an amalgam of them all.
Q: My kids are young, but they claim they’re going to “major in YouTube” when they get to college. Do you have any advice for people who want to start a YouTube channel?
A: Success on YouTube is completely based on luck more then anything else. Also, I feel like the platform itself is slowly dying.
Earlier this year, many major corporations that bought ad space before and during videos pulled out. YouTube tried to remedy the situation with an automated process for flagging any video considered “inappropriate.”
The problem is, the bot doesn’t work as intended, and is based on machine learning. It was created too quickly, and the bot wasn’t given enough time or training data. So they instead let the bot lose to make mistakes in public. These mistakes resulted in any video being uploaded having the possibility of being flagged, resulting in little to no earnings on that work.
The worst part is, YouTube can’t tell the creators what they did wrong, due to the bot’s operations.
Great example: I put out a video last week, getting close to 700,000 views, and it was flagged about 20 hours into its life. I wasn’t alerted via email or any other form of communication, and I wasn’t told what I’d done wrong. So that day I put out a video announcing the flag, and even though the community support was amazing, in about an hour, the announcement video was flagged.
I made another video, as the situation seemed to get a little crazy, and immediately, the third video was flagged. No alerts, no reasons given, and no official way to contact with people who actually work at YouTube. The content creators are forced to request a manual review, and sit there as their videos receive attention and views that will go unpaid. These manual reviews can take upwards of a week.
This is one of many blunders that YouTube and Google have pulled over the years affecting creators, and there’s no easy way to connect with YouTube support.
It paints a picture of YouTube caring more for the companies than the creators, even though it’s the creators who made the site what it is today. My advice for people who want to create their own YouTube channels and content is to wait for YouTube to fix their site, or for a YouTube competitor to rise up.
Q: What's next for you and VNN?
A: My dream is to work at Valve. That’s no secret, and why I get so much criticism.
However, in the short term, my goals are simple: more growth, more videos and more topics.
I have other unused channels with decent subscriber numbers, and I intend to use those soon. Other than that, I plan on finishing degrees in computer science and journalism, and continue making a name for myself in the games journalism industry.
To watch McVicker’s videos, search for “Valve News Network” on YouTube or Google.
In this social media age, it’s hard to believe you can pick up and move to a new city and not know a single person. No family. No friends. No friends of friends.
But that’s exactly what happened to my friend, Sam (I changed his name; you’ll understand why in a second).
After some tension with a girlfriend, a crappy job, and the feeling his 30s were passing him by, Sam relocated from Charlotte to Dallas in hopes of finding a better life.
“This isn’t to say Charlotte is a bad place. I loved it there,” Sam explained in a Facebook Messenger exchange (he gave me permission to include our conversation here so long as I changed his name and didn’t mention his ex-girlfriend by name).
“(I) needed to escape the job and some people. (I) needed a change of pace if I wanted to be happy.”
But what he found was loneliness, which was hard for me to understand considering his elaborate connections on social media.
He was figuratively connected to everyone. He has “500+” connections on LinkedIn (he said the number tops 4,000 connections), more than 2,000 Facebook “friends,” and a smattering of Twitter followers.
Surely he’d know someone in Dallas.
“I had tons of friends in Charlotte. Now I’m on an island in Dallas,” he explained.
“Side note: yes, I’m connected to some people in Dallas, but through (ex-girlfriend). So it would be really weird, and possibly bad, if I reached out to one or more of them.”
“So what does ‘Mr. Social Media’ have for a lonely guy in a big city,” Sam asked. “And no. Don’t tell me to use Tinder. That’s one of the reasons I ended up in Dallas.”
Another good point.
He wasn’t ready to date (his words; not mine), so dating apps were off the table.
Instead, I suggested using apps that connected him with people offline, but for reasons other than finding love and hooking up.
We turned to Meetup (available for Android and iOS devices). This app brings people together with similar interests online to explore, teach and learn things offline.
Meetup has more than 32 million members, 288,000 Meetup groups in 182 countries, nearly 615,000 monthly “meetings,” and 4 million monthly RSVPs for events.
“People run marathons, thanks to running Meetups. They write, thanks to writing Meetups. They change their careers, thanks to career Meetups,” the app description reads.
“(Meetup users) talk, help, mentor and support each other – all in pursuit of moving their lives forward.” This is exactly what Sam needed.
And so far, so good.
Sam is a runner and outdoor enthusiast. Once he signed on to Meetup, he joined a local running group.
“Next week I’m taking a kayaking class,” he said. “Wish me luck.”
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.