Homeless in America: Overview and Statistics

This week in Using Digital and Social Media, we brought a presentation to life using Prezi. I used a presentation on SlideShare about general homeless statistics as a base. I added more updated stats to my presentation from Grabstats.com and the State of Homelessness in America 2012 report.

Here is the SlideShare presentation that my Prezi is based on:

And click the picture below to view my Prezi, titled, “Homeless in America.”
To learn more about homeless issues and to find out how to support the homeless, go to StreetSense.org.

Smart Business, Social Business: How it Relates to Street Sense

During the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Smart Business, Social Business by Michael Brito.  The book is required reading for class, obviously, but it was extremely relevant to my job in the science communications office of a large government agency. About 2 years ago, my office reorganized to get rid of silos and streamline internal and external communications – I wish that I had read this book before we reorganized! I still think I might slip copies of the book onto the desks of my boss and our community manager/social media practitioner…

Just like Anderson in The Long Tail and Solis in Engage!, Brito repeatedly stresses that listening to your customers isn’t enough – you have to engage with them. An organization can do this by acting on what customers are saying, by inviting social customers to participate in the community, and by providing regular, relevant, and interactive content in their social channels.

But Brito’s main argument is that without internal communication, an organization cannot have quality social relationships, active engagement, and effective communication with external customers.

“An organization cannot effectively engage with customers unless its employees can effectively engage internally with each other first.” – p. 222

To effectively communicate internally, Brito explains, an organization must break down organizational silos, train and encourage employees to use social media, provide tools and platforms on which to communicate, monitor external conversations, track metrics, and provide clear social media goals and strategies.

Now, all of those things are perfectly good and sensible things to say, but what makes Brito’s book great is that he shows you how to do these things. For every tip or piece of advice, he goes into great detail explaining why it is so important and how to implement this in your organization. For example, instead of simply saying that an organization needs to facilitate internal collaboration, he explains why internal collaboration is vital to a social business and then explains and evaluates seven different internal collaboration technologies that your organization can use! He does this for a few different tools/vendors, including agencies to implement your social media strategy, tools to track social media metrics, and social listening software.

That being said, Brito’s thorough evaluation of various tools and vendors that an organization can use is not extremely relevant to a small nonprofit like my client, Street Sense.  Small organizations like Street Sense cannot pay thousands of dollars for social listening software, hire an external vendor to develop and/or implement a social media strategy, or hire a community manager, a social media practitioner, or a data analyst (Street Sense currently only has four staff members). Though Street Sense would never be able to purchase these expensive tools or double its staff, his explanations of the tools is helpful, and he does occasionally refer the reader to free or very inexpensive tools. To listen to the conversations taking place online, Street Sense could use free tools like Google search, Google Alert, Twitter Search, and Amplicate, and he pointed out Export.ly, which is now called Simply Measured that offers free metrics analyses in exchange for an @mention on Twitter or a share on Facebook.

Simply Measured offers free analyses in exchange for a Tweet or a Facebook share.

In addition to showing an organization how it can manage internal communication, set up a structure to effectively communication externally, and track metrics to justify social media’s benefits to the organization, Brito explains how to develop a social media strategy and how to engage with your brand’s advocates. Engaging with advocates is something that Street Sense could definitely start doing. I’ve noticed that many people who regularly (or even sporadically) purchase Street Sense feel very strongly about the organization, feel attached to the vendors from whom they purchase the paper, and gladly tell others about the organization if it comes up in conversation. I’m sure that at least a few of the 3,000 people who follow Street Sense on Twitter and like Street Sense on Facebook would like to be more engaged with the organization and take on more active roles as advocates.

“Advocates…are passionate about the brand and don’t require any incentives to tell others about it. A strong emotional connection drives them to share their experiences with their friends, their family members, and the communities they belong to.” – p. 200

Brito suggests roundtables, feedback sessions, and recognition programs to engage with advocates. I think that Street Sense could definitely do these activities without much extra effort and money. For example, Street Sense could start thanking advocates and volunteers by username/handle on Twitter and Facebook, get a vendor on camera to give a quick thanks to all the people who buy the paper and spread the stories within it (possibly with someone who just bought the paper in the video), or even team up with an organization similar to DC Central Kitchen to hold a monthly roundtable with advocates, the homeless people that the organizations serve, and one or two influencers (to get just a little coverage out of the event). Actively engaging Street Sense’s advocates could lead to greater awareness of the organization and homeless issues, more donations, and a thriving community in which passionate people from various walks of life are working together to help solve DC’s homeless problem.

Even though Smart Business, Social Business is most relevant to large organizations that have at least a few thousand dollars to spend on social media, small organizations like Street Sense can still learn a lot from this book, such as how to engage customers and advocates, how to measure social media success, and how to develop a social media strategy. The book is excellent, and I’m definitely going to make my co-workers read it.

And while you’re here, you should take a look at one of Street Sense’s latest videos that gives the viewer a glimpse into the life of a Street Sense vendor.

Phillip Black: A Story of Hope

Phillip Black, known as “The Cat in the Hat” to his Street Sense customers, works more hours a day than I do. He attended my alma mater, the University of Maryland, and he has his Master’s license for plumbing. THe is also homeless.

Even though Phillip has had many set backs, he still has hope. Take a look at how Street Sense is helping Phillip get back on his feet financially while also giving him a voice, a community, and hope.

See more of Phillip’s story below, and visit streetsense.org to learn more about the issues and how you can support the vendors.

The Long Tail: Can Street Sense Succeed in the Long Tail?

I’m not a business or economics-minded person. I rely on my economist best friend to explain the US budget and business models. And whenever I see a graph, my eyes usually glaze over.

I can’t even look at this. (Though, I’m sure it’s super interesting to some people.)

When I read the Amazon description of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, a book required for our class, I was not too excited. Part of the description read, “The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance. New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are essentially resetting the definition of what’s commercially viable across the board.” I’d have to sit through, read, and understand this entire book?? I had to brace myself.

But much to my surprise, I actually understood the concepts in the book, and I even, gasp, enjoyed it. Most importantly, though, The Long Tail gave me a bigger view of our changing markets, showed me that the concepts are not restricted to big businesses with physical products, and gave me guidance on how to improve marketing of Street Sense, my client for this course. My only complaint with the book is that it’s already dated. For example, Anderson makes points using top selling lists in 2006 (reference to lulu.com  on page 76) and doesn’t examine newer and very popular music sites, such as Spotify and 8tracks.

Anderson’s main point is that the market is shifting from mainstream and hits down into a seemingly endless array of niches and subcultures. The big surge in this shift is mostly due to the Web and e-commerce. For example, in a bricks and mortar shop, the owner will carry the most popular items because he/she has to optimize the money-making power of limited shelf space. But in an e-store, an owner has as much shelf space as he/she has bits (cheap!), so the owner can stock many more items, such as very specific niche items and less popular items, which gives the customer a greater choice. The less popular niche items make up the long tail. And even though these niche items do not individually sell as much as the mainstream items, there are so many niche items, provided at little cost to the seller, that it makes a significant percentage of the profits.

Example of a long tail from the book.

In the above image, the long tail starts somewhere around the 1000 rank mark. Compared to the top 1000 tracks, the tracks in the tail are not downloaded very much at all. But because there are so many tracks in the tail, the total number of downloads in the tail rival the total number of downloads in the head.

I think this all can be summed up in Anderson’s own words:

“A few things sell a lot and a lot of things sell a little.” – p. 121

Anderson also stresses the importance of a company actually listening to user feedback on products, using Dell as an example. This gets back to our first book Engage!  by Brian Solis, that repeatedly tells businesses to listen to (and engage with) the people who are talking about the business’s products.

Even though Anderson mostly focuses on large businesses with clear long tails, the concepts and advice can be applied to small nonprofits, such as my client, Street Sense. Street Sense, I think, falls in the long tail of newspapers and publications. I don’t think Street Sense will ever be in the head of newspapers, but that doesn’t mean Street Sense can’t be in the head of a niche within the long tail (just like the most popular track within a subgenre of music). As Anderson says, “”Rankings are most meaningful within such communities, not across them” (p. 140). Street Sense could fit into a variety of niches, such as local DC newspapers, homeless advocacy organizations, and homeless employers.

To get a high ranking within a community (at the head of a niche), it’s important to realize that we are now in the “Recommendation Age” (p. 107). Applied to products, this means that consumers are looking at other consumers’ recommendations, either within the purchasing platform (e.g. Amazon reviews) or on external blogs, for guidance, rather than relying solely on the product information. Applied to Street Sense, I think this means that we can boost our ranking by engaging with the blogosphere. If Street Sense can get influential bloggers to recommend the paper and the organization, readers of those blogs might turn to Street Sense as an authority within the niche. Just as Professor O’Neill said in lecture this week, Anderson also makes a point that bloggers should not be treated like traditional media. You should reach out directly to the blogger, and you should definitely be very familiar with and interested in the blog.

Of course, Street Sense should also start (or rather re-start and maintain) a blog. Anderson says:

…the blogosphere is the greatest vector for new voices ever created. The convention of linking  to ideas and information of merit, wherever they come from, be it professional or amateur, is a powerful force of diversity ” (p. 190).

 The blog could amplify articles that appear in the paper, vendor pieces that weren’t included in the print copy, and can be a place to house new multimedia content (such as the recent video on vendor Phillip Black, “The Cat in the Hat,” below).

Anderson also says, “The secret to creating a thriving Long Tail business can be summarized in two imperatives: 1. Make everything available. 2. Help me find it” (p 2.17). Even though all of Street Sense’s articles are available in their archives, it is extremely difficult to find a particular article from a few issues back because each issue is a pdf and there is no way to filter or search for a particular article. Futhermore, the current articles aren’t tagged with anything more specific than “Current/News.” I think if the articles were made available individually, they could be sorted and filtered by topic, and descriptively tagged so that people can search for the topics that interest them.

With descriptive metadata, an updated blog, and positive relations with influential bloggers within the community, I think that Street Sense could easily rise to the head of one or more of their niches. And Anderson’s book confirms that just because Street Sense is in the long tail doesn’t mean that it can’t have huge influence and be read by many people, maybe not by as many people that read The Washington Post, but by people who are interested in homeless issues and who can advocate for change.

Engage! by Brian Solis: Applying the Book to Street Sense

Social media has changed the way we distribute and receive information. As Brian Solis in his book Engage! nicely says, “Monologue as given way to dialogue.” Before the digital age, we were simply receivers of content, through tools like television, radio, and print newspapers, without many ways to engage with the content creators or with other content receivers. But now, using tools like Twitter, facebook, blogs, and comment sections of news articles, we can give instant feedback to the content sources, engage in conversations around the content, and we can even create and distribute content ourselves.

We aren’t only content receivers – we are content creators. We can create dialogue around news articles in ways we never could before the digital age. (Comment screenshot from Tamar Abrams’s story on Street Sense in the Huffington Post. Click the image to read the story.)

This giant web of conversation can be extremely useful to a company – or detrimental to a company if they aren’t properly engaged. The conversations going on in social media can often be about a company or a company’s product/service. With or without the company, those conversations will occur. Solis explains all of this in depth, gives examples of successes and failures, and shows that when the company is engaged in the conversation, it can help control the information, create/emphasize a positive corporate image, establish relationships, and positively influence consumers.

My client for this course is Street Sense, a street newspaper devoted to raising awareness about and providing economic opportunities for homeless people. A lot of Solis’s advice and instructions aren’t extremely applicable to my client – for example, he often focuses on providing service and technical assistance for customers who bought or are buying a product. Even though customers are buying a paper, there really isn’t a place for technical assistance in the organization. Solis also frequently stresses the importance of training a bulk of a company’s employees in social media and the brand’s persona so that they may each be online advocates of the company. While this is a good idea, it is not beneficial for small organizations like Street Sense to take the time and money to train the transient interns and volunteers who make up the bulk of the workforce.

Even though the book is geared toward large companies that are selling a product, Solis’s main arguments can be applied to nonprofits (like Street Sense), small businesses, and large corporations alike. His main arguments, which are overarching and threaded throughout the book, can be summed up as such: Find where the conversations are taking place (or create them), engage in those conversations, have a human persona that is consistent with your organization’s core values, and listen Listen LISTEN. This may seem simple and common-sense, and perhaps a bit redundant, but it is vital to creating a sense of community and implementing a successful social media strategy.

“Listening offers data. Hearing offers empathy and intelligence. Activity, action, and engagement steer perspective and encourage a sense of community and advocacy.”  – Solis, p. 176

Encouraging a sense of community and advocacy is exactly how Street Sense should use social media – and Solis’s overview of various social media tools and their seemingly infinite uses gave me a lot of ideas to engage the community and inspire advocacy.

Solis often discusses the usual suspects, facebook and Twitter, but he also brings up many other tools that I never thought to use for Street Sense. He gives a brief overview of FourSquare and other geo location mobile tools. What if FourSquare users could check in with their vendor when they purchase Street Sense? This would make the vendors more prominent, put Street Sense on another social media platform, and create a sense of community between vendors and buyers.  Solis also talks about purpose-driven social networks – what if Street Sense used change.org to start a petition or used an Ideascale site to come up with a solution to a pressing issue covered in the paper? These ideas may not work, and I definitely don’t want to use too many platforms that would stretch the small organization thin, but they are tools to think about using.

Early in the book, Solis emphasizes that humanizing your story and creating empathy will help create conversation. He says:

“I’m a human being and so are you. Treat me as such… act as such. Alas, being human is far easier than humanizing your story. Transparency is just not enough to convince me that I need to pay attention to you. Get a little empathy going on and you’ll begin to facilitate meaningful interaction.” – p. 8

I think that Solis primarily means that your social media brand persona needs to humanize the company and get empathy from customers, but I think it also goes beyond the persona and into everything you do and the stories you tell. This is my primary goal in Street Sense’s social media strategy – to humanize homelessness.

Street Sense recently posted a video on Youtube that tries to humanize homelessness by interviewing one of their vendors, Sammy Ngatiri. You can view the video below.

It’s a good idea, but I think it’s executed wrong. Despite the poor video and sound quality, the story is not told in a way that pulls the viewer in and makes the viewer want to stick around to actually get to know Sammy. On top of this, the video does not follow Solis’s guidelines for Social Media Optimization (SMO). The video title and tags are not optimized for social media, and the video has not been syndicated or aggregated into Street Sense’s channels on Twitter or facebook. The video only has 7 views – two of those views are mine.

Solis also discusses the importance of reaching out to influencers in your community, which will be a huge help for Street Sense. If we can get local and national advocates, like Coalition for the Homeless, Eric Sheptock, and The National Coalition for Literacy who have already established authority and a following to cover Street Sense’s stories, say good things about the organization, and push out the content we will create to humanize homelessness, then we increase our reach tremendously, increase our authority and credibility, and help build a community and conversation around homeless issues.

From using the influence of high-profile bloggers to choosing correct keywords and tags for SMO to tapping into mobile geo location tools, I learned quite a bit that I can apply to my client from Solis’s book. And I’d like to end with what I think is the most important and universal statement in the book that we should never forget:

“To build a community, we have to be an active participant in it.” – Solis, p. 111

Multimedia & Facebook: Changing and Creating Interactions Between Media and the People

“As the Existentialists argued, my life-choices mean something to me, in large part, because I have chosen them as my own. And so too, my Facebook means something to me”  (Wittkower, 2010, p. xxiii).

For many people (approximately 800 million people), Facebook is the hub of the internet experience. It is a central location where you can check up on a friend’s status, see what’s happening in current events, watch funny videos, share your favorite music, and read an interesting blog your sister shared on her wall. It’s your entire online life in one place. So it’s no wonder that businesses and organizations are using Facebook to promote their brand.

Once you “like” the Facebook page of an organization, whatever  the organization posts will show up in your newsfeed, which is the very first thing you see when you log into Facebook. An organization’s information popping up in your newsfeed is great, but your newsfeed is full of information. So how do the organizations catch your attention? Well, that’s where multimedia comes in.

Beside the blurred out faces and names (it felt wrong to post the names of my Facebook friends), what catches your attention first?

If you look at a screenshot from my newsfeed above, what do you notice first?  What catches your attention? It’s the photos. The multimedia stands out among a barrage of status updates about how much a girl you knew back in middle school loves her husband.

Popping up among the hundreds, possibly thousands, of status updates and wall posts a day,  multimedia catches your attention. And very cleverly, the multimedia that pops up in your newsfeed is usually just a teaser – a still from a video, two photos from an album, a photo and a headline from a news story  – that invites you to delve deeper.

The Sierra Club is one page that has excellently used multimedia to attract people to their page and their environmental cause.  They have over 140,000 “likes” and their content is shared broadly and discussed in depth on their Facebook page. While browsing through their multimedia content, one video really popped out at me. Watch it below.

This video is short, entertaining, and its message is clear – the coal industry uses propaganda to keep itself in business. Regarding propaganda, Daniel Boorstin, in his essay on pseudo-events in America, says:

“Propaganda is an appealing falsehood… Propaganda substitutes opinion for facts… Propaganda moves [people] directly by explicitly making judgments for them… Propaganda oversimplifies experience” (Boorstin, 1977, 34-35).

Through a multimedia video posted to Facebook, The Sierra Club exposes the coal industry’s use of propaganda, telling the American public flat out lies to make a buck.  The coal industry lies, relies on opinions, and omits facts. (Interestingly enough, you could consider the Mr. Coal video an example of propaganda as well. It doesn’t explore the full issue and simply throws out accusations.)

The video itself is impressive, but what I find most impressive is the dialogue that it spurred. Take a look at a screenshot I took of some Facebook comments on the video.

Screenshot of some conversation around The Sierra Club's video.

Some people comment how much they loved the video, some people get into a discussion about coal and jobs, and some people even admonish The Sierra Club for putting out this piece of propaganda.  If this video had been played as a commercial on network television, there would be no dialogue among viewers. Because of Facebook, viewers of the video can comment back to The Sierra Club and create their own conversations among each other.

“Facebook is a key example of [the convergence of personal communication with public media], of a blurring of the lines between one-to-one and mass communication” (Meikle, 2012, p. 14).

That quote from Meikle in his chapter in Facebook and Philosophy: What’s on Your Mind? really gets to the bottom of why an organization posting multimedia to Facebook is so important. Instead of simply throwing messages at a viewer, organizations encourage feedback from their audience.

Another organization using multimedia on Facebook to prompt discussion is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Take a look at the video EPA posted to their Facebook page.

This video is actively trying to  start discussion, to “expand the conversation.” One problem though, I think, is that EPA is encouraging the discussion to take place outside of Facebook on an Ideascale site. I think partly because of this, the discussion on EPA’s Facebook is much more shallow.

Discussion around EPA's video.

The conversation around EPA’s video is brief and is mostly “Nice video.”  The Facebook user Sina Borzooei tried to spark a discussion by posing a question to a previous user’s statement, but nothing came of it. I believe the discussion would have been richer if EPA had fully used Facebook and encouraged conversation on their page instead of redirecting to an external website (the Ideascale doesn’t have very much discussion on it either). But still, EPA is trying to embrace the fact that Facebook changes the way the way people interact with media. It’s no longer good enough to put your message out there – you need people to take it, respond to it, and spread it.

Before the advent of social media, EPA and The Sierra Club would have shown these videos during a commercial spot on network television. They would have simply thrown their environmental messages at the viewers with no way to interact with the viewers, or for the viewers to interact with other viewers. But with Facebook and other social media, the viewers’ messages and the environmental organizations’ messages converge (you could even call what is created out of this convergence a collective narrative!). The viewers can comment back to The Sierra Club and EPA. And even more astonishing is that the people can create their own content around the organizations’ posts.

These viewers are creating their own content. They are starting dialogues with other viewers. They are brought into the media and are invited to share their ideas.

Facebook uesrs are not just consumers of media – they are creators of media.

Without the creation of content by the users, Facebook would not exist. Facebook relies on user content, and The Sierra Club and EPA are encouraging users to create content around their own content. EPA is even asking for more than just comments. For Earth Day, EPA asked users to share a photo of a personal “Earth Day moment.” EPA shared user submissions on their blog (though not on their Facebook, which is a missed opportunity).

EPA asks for photos from Facebook users.

This creation of content by the users of Facebook, and Facebook’s uselessness without the users’ creation, gets right back to one of our very first readings. In Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?, Roy Ascott says:

Telematic networking makes explicit in its technology and protocols what is implicit in all aesthetic experience where that experience is seen as being as much creative in the act of the viewer’s perception as it is in the act of the artist’s production” (Ascott, 2001, p. 308).

Facebook, a form of (or perhaps “a part of”) telematic networking, makes it clear that the creation of content is in the hands of the user because without the user’s content creation, there would be nothing. Facebook is the platform, the canvas, on which millions upon millions of users can create content. Users may post status updates, photos, comments. Environmental organizations like The Sierra Club and EPA may post videos and photo competitions to get users involved and invested in their cause. Everyone is continuously creating content, and every piece of content created only creates more content!

It’s really amazing to think about how much Facebook has changed the face of communication and culture. I never really thought too much about this incredibly extensive network of millions of people, all contributing to one big work. It’s a bit mind boggling, so I’d like to wrap up with another quote from Ascott that puts it much more eloquently than I ever could:

“Telematic culture means, in short, that we do not think, see, or feel in isolation. Creativity is shared, authorship is distributed, but not in a way that denies the individual her authenticity or power of self-creation, as rather crude models of collectivity might have done in the past. On the contrary, telematic culture amplifies the individual’s capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense experience, for more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through networked interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet” – (Ascott, 2001, p. 312).

If Blackberry Users had Instagram…

Just a few weeks ago, the popular photo-sharing app Instagram released a version for Android.  Since Android is the most popular smartphone platform, it only seems logical that Instagram made it available for the 300 million Android users.  And I’m sure Android availability only made Instagram look more appealing to Facebook, who recently bought the app for $1 billion.

But there has been an interesting backlash to opening up Instagram to Android users.  iPhone users across the globe are dismayed that their beloved Instagram is available on other mobile devices. Take a look at some tweets from disgruntled iPhone Instagram users:

Team iPhone is clearly not happy to share the marvel that is Instagram with Android users.  Is this extreme reaction a product of cell phone classism? Is it because the world won’t be able to tell who has an iPhone based on sepia tone photos? Is it the technological equivalent of a drama geek sitting at the popular girls’ table in a high school cafeteria?  Perhaps. But one thing is clear – all that those popular iPhone girls can do is look at the drama geek Android and say, “Ew.”  Because Android users have Instagram now, and no amount of complaining by iPhone users can change that.

But all of this talk about Android and Instagram got me thinking about other smartphone brands. Namely, the Blackberry.

Blackberry is not the drama geek  to the popular girls’ iPhone. No, no. The Blackberry is much more than that.

The Blackberry is the treasurer of Model UN – who represents Denmark and still carries the reputation of eating her boogers even though she totally stopped doing that in 6th grade.

And what would the reaction from iPhone users be if Instagram announced the app was available on Blackberry? Disgust? Outrage? Disbelief? Or would the iPhone girls simply laugh, because, let’s be real, Blackberry users on Instagram??? Can you even imagine it?

Well, you don’t have to imagine a world of Blackberry Instagram photos , because I’ve imagined it for you.

We must begin by imagining the Blackberry user….

The Blackberry user is over the age of 35, is middle-management, and works for the government. The Blackberry user answers to someone who maintains the office’s budget, works in a renovated office building, and edits the occasional Congressional testimony. The user has two kids, both in middle school (poor family planning), and the user’s significant other makes $35,000 more than the user per year working for a corporation. This income disparity puts a strain on the relationship, but they never talk about it.

Now that we understand the Blackberry user, let’s take a look at the Blackberry user’s Instagram photos…

The haunting and endless cubicle maze.

A bleak organizational planning meeting.

Nostalgic interactions around the office kitchen coffee pot.

The House Oversight Subcommittee on Tarp and Financial Resources – you probably haven’t heard of them.

Now that we’ve explored the Instagram photos of a Blackberry user, we must think – is it worth developing? Is the Instagram world of Blackberry bleak… or beautiful? Do the sepia filters reduce the monotony of the Blackberry user’s life? Or do the overexposures white out any trace of excitement, leaving the user with nothing but a 2 hour commute and a 3 day email outage?

I really don’t know.  But you should discuss it in the comments.

And if you have any Instagram for Blackberry photos that you would like to share, take it to Twitter and use #bbinstagram.  10 points to the first person to make a #bbinstagram photo that incorporates a non-ironic government mustache.

Disclaimer: I use a Blackberry.