This blog was created as an assignment for my social media class at New York University. Creating my first blog has been quite an interesting experience. Over the past few months I have worked to combine my passion for public relations with current events and social media tools to try and create an interesting blog. I’ve learned a lot along the way, as well as gotten over a few worries.

In the beginning the thought of publishing my writing to the Internet for anyone to see was a bit intimidating. I was baffled by this new concern because I’ve never really had any qualms about others reading my work. After a while I realized my new feeling of unease was because all of the work I had put out in the past was scholarly-based, and blog writing can be a bit more personal and opinionated at times. After a few posts I quickly overcame this fear.

Another difficulty I faced was choosing what topics to write about. I often felt overwhelmed with all of the possibilities and social media subjects available. I became better at choosing subjects after a few weeks, but I preferred the times when my professor would assign a blog topic.

Photo from futureshape on flickr

Blogging has brought some surprises as well. After publishing my first post I was shocked to see that someone I didn’t know had liked it. I knew my work had been put out into the World Wide Web, but I guess I couldn’t believe someone had actually found it amongst the wealth of blogs and information out there. Interactions with other bloggers have continued to surprise me over the past few months. I believe I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around the potential reach a blog can have, and it’s truly amazing.

I’ve particularly enjoyed all of the interaction and knowledge blogging has brought me. I’ve discovered some new blogs I love to read and gotten some great insight on my posts from my peers. I’m still unsure as to whether I will continue blogging, but I am definitely thankful for this experience.

Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram has been a hot topic since the agreement was announced on Monday. Opinions and speculations of all types have surfaced. What’s going to happen to Instagram now? Why did Facebook want Instagram? Was this a good business decision for Facebook? These are some of the most popular questions revolving around the deal.

Overall, the mass public’s opinion on the deal seems to be far from positive. An analysis by Crimson Hexagon showed that out of 200,000 tweets mentioning the acquisition only 12 percent were positive while 35 percent were negative and 52 percent were neutral. These findings echo the opinions I’ve seen broadcasted over the web. There have been a significant amount of negative reactions, detailing worries ranging from Facebook ruining Instagram to Instagram no longer being “cool.” Some have voiced the concern that Instagram will no longer be allowed to upload to other social media sites (i.e. Twitter), however Mark Zuckerberg seemed to put that idea to rest in his personal announcement of the deal on Facebook.

CNN iReport's Instagram compilation of viewers' opinions on the Facebook deal

However, there are those on the other side of the fence. Many have cited Google’s successful takeover of YouTube to show how this acquisition could benefit all parties involved as well. In his op-ed, Chris Taylor mentions how perhaps the introduction of the app for Android wouldn’t have taken so long if the team had Facebook’s resources.

The other issue being discussed is the motivation behind the acquisition. Some have disputed the worth of Instagram and can’t believe Facebook shelled out $1 billion for it. I, like others, believe it was a smart move on Facebook’s part. Facebook has always valued photo sharing, yet hasn’t been able to capture mobile audiences the way Instagram has. Facebook’s mobile apps have never been up to par, whereas Instagram started as a mobile app and has navigated the field well. There is a lot for Facebook to learn from Instagram; and I have no doubt the $1 billion will pay off handsomely.

As for my thoughts on how the Instagram app will fare in this business deal, I tend to agree with the 35 percent who don’t have high hopes. I love Instagram’s cozy setting much like I loved Facebook’s intimacy before it opened up to users who were not in college. Yes, I know Instagram is already extremely visible with over 30 million registered users, however I worry it will become more commercialized with Facebook. I also can’t help but associate Facebook with privacy concerns, which is one issue I never worried about with Instagram before. Hopefully I will be proven wrong and continue to enjoy Instagram for years to come. What are your thoughts on the acquisition?

By now the controversy and excitement behind the Kony 2012 campaign is dwindling. But, just four weeks ago social media was flooded with talk on Invisible Children and their quest to spread the word about Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Army’s terrible practices. Invisible Children’s message spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook and many celebrities such as Justin Beiber and Mark Zuckerberg came out in support of the campaign. However, criticisms quickly surfaced about the organization and its campaign as well. Many condemned Invisible Children’s messaging strategy, said the campaign misrepresented facts, and accused the organization of misusing funds. To add to the controversy surrounding the campaign, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell has recently come under media spotlight for his inappropriate behavior and arrest.

No matter which side you’re on in the Kony 2012 debate, what Invisible Children achieved through social media is remarkable and worthy of study. Less than two days after Invisible Children released the Kony 2012 documentary on YouTube the video had received close to 20 million views. Today, the video has more than 86 million views.  Two days after the video release Uganda, Invisible Children, and #stopkony were among the top ten trending items on Twitter in the U.S. and worldwide. Remarkably, these terms even ranked above Peyton Manning and the new iPad. These facts are even more impressive when you consider the video’s long length, clocking in at one second shy of 30 minutes.

Invisible Children’s success not only came from their documentary, but also from their effective leveraging of Facebook and Twitter. Their website went down soon after the video gained popularity but they effectively kept everyone updated through their Twitter account to assure the public they were working on the problem. They quickly responded to critics on Twitter and directed them to a part of their website where they were addressing all questions and concerns. Invisible Children retweeted and replied to celebrities who showed their support via Twitter, thereby showcasing their famous brand ambassadors. Moreover, in Danah Boyd’s blog she talks about how Invisible Children effectively targeted American youth to outreach to celebrities and friends on Twitter and spread the Kony 2012 message. Invisible Children has also been able to engage with their audience through their Facebook page by posting supplemental information, updates on campaign material orders, and behind the scenes videos among other things.

Invisible Children's Twitter account responding to critics

The organization is currently preparing for the launch of their second video tomorrow. Invisible Children’s Facebook page and Twitter have been posting videos and photos promoting the new film, but the buzz doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. Only time will tell if Invisible Children’s social media skills will be able to propel this video into the type of stardom the first documentary achieved.

Invisible Children's New Video
Photo taken from Invisible Children's Facebook page

Practically every business, big or small, is using some form of social media these days. But, who’s actually using these tools well? One company I’ve come across that has a great handle on social media is Bobbi Brown Cosmetics (BBC). BBC uses Facebook, Twitter, and a blog to spread brand awareness and interact with consumers.

BBC’s use of its Facebook page has enabled the company to connect with customers in unorthodox ways. In February the company launched a Facebook campaign that allowed the public to vote for their favorite discontinued lipstick shades from a list of the top ten most requested colors. The top winners will be reintroduced and available for purchase exclusively through Facebook this fall. As Lauren Indvik for Mashable notes, BBC’s campaign “both rewards brand loyalists and builds purchase anticipation over time.”

BBC’s Twitter accounts are another great example of the company’s social media prowess. BBC has two accounts, each designed to meet different needs. The @BobbiBrown account tweets mainly about new products and different makeup looks. It serves as more of a general publicity tool. On the other hand, the @AskBobbiBrown account is more specific and targeted to helping customers. Through this account employees answer consumer questions, recommend products specifically suited for users, and even offer customers the option of chatting online with live “Bobbi artists.” Once again, BBC is helping to create and sustain brand loyalty with their social media practices.

@AskBobbiBrown Twitter account

BBC’s separation of the Twitter accounts is a great move in my opinion. Many companies rely on one account for all of their needs, thus deterring users from following them. After all, who wants to follow an account that simply responds to customer praise and criticism all of the time? I would much rather follow a company who tweets about new products and tips while having the option of contacting another Twitter account with my questions and concerns.

Another great aspect of BBC’s social media is its blog, Everything Bobbi, which appears to actually be written by the company’s founder. It is true, many companies and/or their CEOs have blogs. So, what’s special about this one? The best way I can explain it is that this blog is refreshing. Sure, some product placement and makeup tutorials are present (what else would you expect?), but the blog doesn’t make me feel as if it’s another way for the company to try and ram their merchandise down my throat. This “refreshing” quality is created by the variety of topics Bobbi covers in her posts. Beauty is often discussed, but she also covers other interesting areas, such as health, fashion, books, and organization. The posts are written with a conversational tone and invite consumer input. She also hosts contests and giveaways, driving more consumer interaction and visibility for the blog. 

Everything Bobbi blog

Overall, I think BBC’s social media strategies are superb. I believe BBC has a bright future in social media as long as the company stays on top of customer feedback and continues to grow and perfect the @AskBobbiBrown account.

One social media app that has taken the market by storm is Instagram, a photo sharing service that allows you to apply filters to your images and publish them across various forms of social media. In August 2011 Instagram reached 150 million uploaded photos, coming just nine months after the app launched. This statistic is even more impressive when you consider that the app is only available on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. In December 2011 Apple named Instagram the “iPhone App of the Year,” further proving Instagram’s success.

I was immediately taken by Instagram when I started using the app last August. I enjoyed being able to upload pictures of scenery, food, and other random photos to Instagram instead of flooding my Facebook timeline. The app’s filtering and editing options are amusing, and can even become a bit addictive. Instagram allows you to follow your friends and celebrities, like and comment on pictures, and tag Instagram users in photos. You also have the capability of tagging places or themes in your pictures. For instance, you may take a picture at Disney World and use the tag: #disneyworld. You may also want to use the theme: #princess. When you click on or search any tag you are taken to a page showcasing other photos with the same tag. It’s an interesting way to see how other users have captured the same landscape or interpret the same theme.

#disneyworld Instagram tag

But Instagram isn’t just about sharing and viewing photos. The social aspect seems to have caught on as well. There are many stories of users meeting new friends through the app, and even examples of people coordinating Instagram user gatherings, or “instameets.” The app seems to cross countless boundaries and appeal to a wide array of people, even politicians.

However, there are some critics of Instagram. Many photographers and photojournalists claim the app ruins the integrity of photos, particularly in journalism. They believe editing photos is unethical; and that true photographers develop their craft and are able to effectively capture a scene without doctoring it. One news corporation heavily present on Instagram is CNN. They have accounts for The Situation Room, CNN iReport, and CNN Public Relations. Their iReport program has often attracted criticism because of its’ reliance on reports and images from the untrained public. Judy Walgren, director of photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, has noted, “There are certainly hardcore ethical issue(s) that photojournalism staff are trained in that the average reader is not.”

CNN iReport's Instagram account

So what does this have to do with PR? Well, I believe the app could be a very effective tool for certain organizations. Instagram even has a support center specifically designed for businesses; and they have listed several of their notable business users.  Restaurants could upload pictures of their tasty dishes, clothing stores may want to publish a photo of their “look of the week,” etc. The possibilites are endless with Instagram; and as a PR professional, every worthy outlet should be explored.

My love affair with Pinterest began last June after my friend raved about the site. I was instantly hooked on searching for fashion, recipes, interior décor, and other sources of inspiration. I felt as if there was a wealth of information at my fingertips that I would have never been exposed to before.  I’ve never been one to read fashion blogs or search the Internet for recipes and design ideas, but with Pinterest I find myself captivated by all of these subjects because they are so accessible. The site makes it easier for me to imagine days when I won’t live in a shoebox apartment in New York with worries of financial aid and laundromats—oh to dream.

Ever since we rang in 2012 I’ve noticed a tremendous increase in media coverage of Pinterest and in my personal followers on the site. Many more of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers are adopting the (relatively) new form of social media. These trends are supported by TechCrunch’s announcement that Pinterest recently broke the record for unique website visitors. It appears as if Pinterest’s success and popularity will continue to grow, which makes it even more important for businesses to get involved. But how can company’s use Pinterest to their advantage? What are the best approaches?

One business currently using Pinterest is Nordstrom. The company has pin boards based around fashion trends, New York Fashion Week, designers, weddings, and much more.  The variety of content its’ boards offer keep visitors entertained and provide them with links to purchase the items from Nordstrom’s website. I think Nordstrom is using the site effectively; and many businesses could learn from them. Any user could repin one of Nordstrom’s photos, therefore sharing the photo and link with all of their personal followers. The opportunities for sales and growth are truly astounding.

One of my friend’s pin boards displays how far-reaching Pinterest can be. She began a collaborative board called “Stache Bash” with a couple of her friends as a place to pin all of the hilarious mustache memorabilia they could find. The board soon caught on, and now it has over 800 followers (the majority of which the curators do not personally know).

I believe Pinterest is unique, refreshing, and a vital site for companies and PR professionals of all types to pay attention to. After all, just yesterday Pinterest was used as a channel to attack presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Who knows where Pinterest will take us next.

The "Stache Bash" pin board

With technology constantly evolving it can be difficult to keep up. I’m constantly asking myself questions like, “Which computer would work best for me?”, “What in the world is the difference between Intel Core processors?”, and  How much memory do I really need?” Of course the online world and media environment are advancing right along with technology. Trying to stay informed on top bloggers, emerging social media sites, and trends can be nothing short of overwhelming. So, what does this all mean for professional communicators such as public relations professionals?

In short, it means more work. In Dan Gillmor’s “Journalism as a Conversation,” which appears in the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, he mentions how these days “newsmakers can’t hide as easily behind traditional PR or pronouncements.” Ain’t that the truth. PR professionals are taxed with keeping up with the online media trends, monitoring what’s being said about their clients, and engaging with consumers through different online platforms, among other things. Another challenge is making the information you’re disseminating from your clients’ social media sites interesting and understandable for readers. Obviously different industries face different issues (converting aerospace engineering studies into comprehensible findings for the public is an art form in and of itself), but  overall every company must consider how to best connect with a variety of audiences they would have never considered before the evolution of social media and the Internet.

However, with these challenges come amazing opportunities. As mentioned above, PR professionals are now able to directly reach consumers and other audiences in ways no one ever dreamed of. This means not having to go through journalists and other middle men to try and have your story covered. Also, the ability to source social media sites and gain insight on how your client is perceived by mass audiences is invaluable. In fact, it can and has helped companies foresee potential crises before they emerge. In my mind it’s pretty clear that the extra work accompanying the evolving online world is well worth the effort.