There’s A Cougar In Them Thar Hills

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

There are no cougars in Wayne County, W.Va. By official accounts, there are no cougars anywhere in wild, wonderful West Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar is no longer endangered because it is extinct.

But for a few days last month, a Prichard, W.Va., man named J.R. Hundley deceived a whole bunch of gullible people on Facebook into thinking he had seen one near his house. “I think he killed my [pit bull]! Something tore him up pretty bad,” Hundley wrote Dec. 16.

When asked by Facebook readers, Hundley divulged phony details about the origins of the picture. He implied that he took the photo on “my driveway up the hill to my house” on Lower Gragston Creek Road. When one reader voiced concern about a free-roaming mountain lion killing pets and livestock, Hundley even offered this reassurance about the one he never actually saw: “I was gone, came home and found him. He wasn’t mean at all!”

Nearly 1,600 people shared his warning about a puma on the prowl in the hills, and another 600 liked it. You could tell from the comments that locals wanted to believe it was true, if only to justify their unfounded fears that mountain lions are in the area. Some people spread rumors of their own.

“We saw one cross the road in Prichard a few years ago in front of us, but it was black,” Carrie Ann Bragg wrote. Kathy Baker Rice shared this tale: “I saw one on Bear Creek a few years ago, just about three miles from Buchanan, Ky., which is across the Big Sandy River from Prichard. Huge.”

Cara Nelson-Hall suggested that the mountain lion Hundley imagined was not alone. “They’re on Davis branch. We hear them,” she said. And Jim Reed cried conspiracy by state game officials. “I bet DNR released him out there, lol,” he said half-jokingly. “I would call them and ask them if they did and tell them to pay [you] for your pit bull.”

Appalachian Magazine bought into Hundley’s story, touting it and other alleged sightings of mountain lions in Appalachia under the headline “Mountain Lion Sighted in West Virginia.” Several readers told their own cougar tales in the comments of the magazine’s Facebook page and ridiculed the doubters.

“Anyone that thinks there are no panthers in West Virginia is a fool,” Opal Marcum said. “They are in Wayne County, Mingo County and Logan County for sure. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see you.”

But discerning readers quickly pegged Hundley as a hoaxer. “Also look out for the notorious Sasquatch,” Travis Boone mocked. “He’s around too!!”

Some critics assumed that the picture was real and that Hundley edited a mountain lion into it. But as it turns out, the entire photo is real (along with a second one like it). Hundley just didn’t take it.

The photos were published on three Facebook pages, Hunting Trophy Trips, Oregon Outdoor Hunters and Oregon Outdoor Council. Oregon State University forestry student Hayden England saw the cougar March 10 while working in the field near Vida, Ore., and the McKenzie River.
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The Elements Of Social Media Style

Nearly a century ago, William Strunk Jr. penned a treatise on writing that has defined the craft for generations. As recently as 2011, Time magazine ranked the revised and expanded version of “The Elements of Style,” co-authored by E.B. White, among the 100 best and most influential nonfiction books.

But in the past decade, the expectations of readers have changed as technology has advanced. The art of writing has evolved to fulfill their expectations. To excel in this online era, communicators must learn to write for the platforms that readers use today. They must practice “The Elements of Social Media Style.”

ElementsOfSocialMediaStyle
Through my company Tabula Rasa Media, I explored this intersection between traditional and modern communications in a presentation to a global communications consultancy in Washington, D.C. A mix of lectures and interactive exercises, the class covered three broad aspects of writing — composition, creativity and courtesy (online etiquette).

Participants learned how to turn existing content into fresh online material, how to cater their writing toward different social media platforms, and how to coordinate content across those platforms. They also discussed real examples of social media successes and flops that illustrated both effective and flawed writing.

TRM offers this training to corporations, trade associations, nonprofit groups and other organizations. If you are interested, please email me at tabrasamedia@gmail.com.

The Essential Guide To Pinterest

With the interest in Pinterest at a fever pitch, brands around the globe see the virtual bulletin board as a new social forum for connecting with their fans. But first brands need to make sense of Pinterest. The best way to start is by downloading “The Essential Guide To Pinterest,” a brief storytelling guide to this hot social network.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Pinterest is a gold vein just waiting to be mined by brands. The network lets users “pin” images and videos from across the Web and organize them into themes that tell stories. The Pinterest interface is simple, and it offers boundless opportunities for companies to communicate their unique brand narratives in visual form.

Take That Trash Off My Wall!

Published in The Crime Report, Center on Media Crime and Justice
By K. Daniel Glover

David Oliver reached his social media breaking point last month.

As chief of the Brimfield, Ohio police department, Oliver is used to vulgar tirades against the police, especially from criminals and the company they keep. But he won’t tolerate such nastiness on the department’s Facebook page.

Hosting the page hasn’t presented many problems for Oliver in the year since it has been online. The department has deleted only three posts and banned four users. But two of the department’s posts on Jan. 23, one of them being a picture from a methamphetamine lab, triggered a flurry of foul language and personal attacks against officers.

Oliver deleted the offending content and then laid down the social media law.

“This is a police department [Facebook] page,” he wrote. “I am the chief here, which means I take responsibility for the entire content. … If you get offended because a ‘friend’ gets arrested, tough luck. Get new friends. Whatever you do, it will not involve bashing officers, me or the community on this page. It will not involve incoherent swearing.”

Oliver’s post earned nearly 300 “likes” and sparked 70 comments, far more engagement than usual on the page.

Most people cheered him for taking a hard line. But the status update also revealed a key concern facing police departments across America as they get more social: how to balance the community benefits of public interaction with the risks of creating an open, public forum.

“That’s the biggest challenge that most of us face,” said Sgt. Steve Hauck, who administers the social media channels for Utica, N.Y., police department. “There’s a fine line between free speech and vulgarity and what’s offensive. It’s always a judgment thing.”
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Book Review: ‘Digital Assassination’

Originally published at The Washington Times
Ghostwritten by K. Daniel Glover

The Internet is a boundless universe of information and connections that fuels the economy, enhances world culture and fosters democracy. But it also is home to digital assassins who lurk undetected and lob verbal, visual and technological grenades to ruin reputations — and enlist others via social media to achieve their evil ends more quickly.

That’s the ugly reality of online life as painted by Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis in their new book, “Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks.” It’s a largely accurate portrayal — one that brands, businesspeople and public officials must take seriously if they want to thrive in today’s digital age.

Torrenzano and Davis at times go overboard in their rhetoric, particularly when it comes to blogs and social media. They also give too much credit to journalists for having kept character assassination in check during the 20th century. The chapter on “truth remix,” for example, is based in part on the prejudicial and flawed premise that “traditional media has been replaced by a blogosphere that creates falsities out of truth in order to compete for ratings and clicks.”

But the authors are not Luddites. They repeatedly emphasize that we humans are the problem and that modern technology has merely increased our capacity for lies, deceit and uncommon cruelty motivated by greed, jealousy and other character flaws. They identify parallels between character attacks of the low-tech past and the high-tech present to prove the point.

“This power of the new digital assassin to destroy is as powerful as YouTube but as old as civilization,” Torrenzano and Davis write. Their aim is to illustrate the depth, reach and speed of that amplified power and to teach people how to fight back.

Read the full review at The Washington Times.

The Social Customer Is Always Right

Originally published on the David All Group’s social marketing blog
By K. Daniel Glover

One evening last month, we started getting robocall after robocall from our insurance company on our home telephone. I tolerated a few of those interruptions from Allstate before I decided to take action. But what could I possibly do to halt recorded phone calls?

Then it hit me: Tweet!

So I did. I sent a couple of pointed but friendly tweets to @Allstatenews, specifically calling out Guy Hill, the executive vice president whose recorded voice kept disturbing our family time, and I included a link to Hill’s bio so the Twitter manager would know he was a real Allstate person.

Allstate promptly replied and the robocalls stopped. Even better, Hill sent me (and other customers) an apologetic note by snail mail a few days later and included a $25 gift card. “This is not typical of how Allstate operates, and we are taking the necessary steps to help ensure mistakes like this will not happen in the future,” the letter said.

My experience proves that the cardinal rule of commerce — the customer is always right — has never been more true than in today’s social media era.

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The Roots Of Brand Activism

Originally published on the David All Group’s social marketing blog
By K. Daniel Glover

Those of us who use social networks to promote products, services and other favorites appreciate the value of modern media to spread the word about our favorite brands. But what we may not realize is that brand activism is not a 21st-century innovation; technology has merely enhanced a concept with roots in the mid-20th century.

The proof is in a 1966 study recently revisited at the blog of the Harvard Business Review. The research, conducted by Ernest Dichter, the father of motivation research, explores the value of word-of-mouth marketing and outlines the four things that motivate people to talk about the brands they love:

  • Product. “The experience is so novel and pleasurable that it must be shared,” blogger David Aaker concluded.
  • Self. “Sharing knowledge or opinions is a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, have inside information, seek confirmation of a person’s own judgment, or assert superiority.”
  • Others. “The speaker wants to reach out and help to express neighborliness, caring and friendship.”
  • Message. “The message is so humorous or informative that it deserves sharing.”

Read the rest of Aaker’s piece for his insights into how brands can apply yesterday’s lessons about word-of-mouth communications to achieve the most success in today’s social-media campaigns.

Facebook Patrol: The Social Police Beat

Excerpt from The Crime Report, Center on Media, Crime and Justice
By K. Daniel Glover

For 24 hours in early April, residents of Dunwoody, Ga., got a call-by-call glimpse of what it’s like to patrol the Atlanta suburb. Police in the city, which is home to about 46,000 people at night and 100,000 each workday, reported calls on Twitter as they happened.

From the first call of the day (a traffic stop that resulted in a verbal warning) to the 111th call at 6 a.m. the next morning (a report of a suspicious person who was gone when police arrived), the department kept its citizens in the loop on every move officers made. Domestic disputes, child neglect, burglaries, gunshots, drugs, fights, car accidents, road hazards, noise complaints, 911 miscalls, false alarms — you name it, the police broadcast it in as close to real time as possible.

“We’re still trying to really connect with our community and to let people know what we do, and also to provide some transparency in our efforts,” Chief Billy Grogan said of Dunwoody, which was incorporated in 2008. “This is just another way to really try to reach our community.”

Dunwoody is not alone. Dozens of police departments across the country — and around the world — are moving into the social media space, both to connect with citizens and to search for criminals. These community leaders even have a conference geared toward them, Social Media in Law Enforcement, which was held last week in Chicago.

(Read the article)

Editor’s note: This article also was published at the blog Justice 2.0, a project that the author produced as part of his John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Fellowship to the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Judging Social: Modern Media In Court

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

The man who represents himself in court may well have a fool for a client, but the Indiana Supreme Court is doing its part to make sure that man is a little less foolish.

Over the past few years, the court has been producing Internet videos aimed at educating people who choose to represent themselves. The series includes introductory lessons, specific tips for various stages of the legal process and topical videos on subjects like children and divorce. Some of the clips have more than 10,000 views each.

Online videos like those on the Indiana high court’s YouTube channel are just one technique that courts — and some judges — are using to expand their communications horizons. As more people go to social media for information, the judicial branch is getting social to reach them.

“There’s widespread interest in the topic in the court community,” said Chris Davey, the public information director for Ohio’s Supreme Court. He has been spearheading research of social media in the courts for the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. “Almost every day there are courts that are starting to use some form of social media.”

Even the International Criminal Court has a Twitter account and YouTube channel.

The 21st-century court reporter
The Indiana Supreme Court is one of several U.S. courts on Twitter, a move that PIO Kathryn Dolan credits to changing media realities — and to her boss Chief Justice Randall Shepherd, whom she calls “a newspaperman at heart.”

“What we’re seeing nationally and globally is obviously a shift in how people consume news,” Dolan said. “They decide what they want to hear and learn about and go directly to the source in many cases. And we felt that it was important to provide that information and that means for them to gather that information directly from us.”
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Trial By Twitter: Real-time Court Coverage

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

Helen Ubinas was a lone voice tweeting in a media wilderness in January 2010. The Harford Courant columnist was the only journalist reporting in real time via Twitter during jury selection of a high-profile murder trial — an experiment she began by happenstance when the reactions of potential jurors intrigued her.

“Mostly I thought I was ‘talking’ to myself, just jotting down impressions of the young woman who broke down crying when she saw Hayes, the high-stakes lawyering taking place, etc.,” Ubinas said in an email interview. “But suddenly people started to follow me — and they began sending messages. I realized quickly that people were very interested in the case, in the judicial system. They wanted every single detail.”

By the time the jury found Steven Hayes guilty of killing three people in Cheshire, Conn., Ubinas was one of a half-dozen reporters covering the case live in news blurbs and sound bites of 140 characters or less. Their work amassed such a following that Hayes’ defense team blamed Twitter for creating a “circus atmosphere,” and the second defendant in the murder case, Joshua Komisarjevsky, later tried to keep tweeters out of the courtroom.

The reporter’s notebook online
The Cheshire murder trials highlight the increasing significance of Twitter both as a news tool in general and as a great gadget for covering trials in particular. Journalists can report dramatic testimony, legal maneuverings and more as soon as they happen, and they can do it in more detail than traditional media allow.

High-profile trials such as the Cheshire case and the federal corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., attract the most attention. But some local court reporters have made Twitter part of their daily routines.

The value of live-tweeting trials quickly becomes apparent to journalists who try it. They hear from crime-news junkies, lawyers involved in trials and especially family members of crime victims. “Family members who could not be in court thanked me for making it possible for them to ‘be there,'” Ubinas said of both the Hayes trial and another one she tweeted more recently.
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