Fowler Hoffman


Lena Hoffman
Lena's Twitter

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The Experiment
The objective of my experiment was to identify who is participating in conversations on social media platforms about two issue areas on which we are working – summer learning and after-school – listen to what they are saying about the issues, and engage them in conversations on these platforms. I set up a “listening” dashboard on Google Reader with RSS feeds from searches generated by Social Mention, using select keywords in key social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Through monitoring conversations around topics in our issue areas, I identified influential communicators and key stakeholders on these topics and took advantage of opportunities to engage them.

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Finding #1: It’s Not Necessary to Listen to Everything Being Said by Anyone, Anywhere on the Internet.
My issue areas tend to have keywords that are very general (e.g. “after school” and “education”) and so initially my searches were pulling up a lot of irrelevant content. Hash-tags were very helpful in narrowing my results because they are intentionally placed “flags” to call out terms that are relevant to a specific topic. Additionally, I found tools like Google AdWords useful for generating keywords that made my searches more productive. Eventually, I had to concede that some platforms were simply less fruitful in terms of pulling in relevant content, and I narrowed my focus to three platforms – Twitter, Facebook and blogs – as they seemed to generate the most relevant results in my keyword searches. When it came time to move into the engagement stage of the experiment, I felt that listening and responding on multiple platforms would be difficult, so for the listening and engagement exercises I focused on Twitter. I will apply the strategies I find to be successful on Twitter in different platforms, including Facebook.

Finding #2: “Tweeting to the Choir” Alone May Not be Sufficient.
It seems to me that on Twitter, information tends to flow within a closed-loop of individuals and organizations with a similar focus or a shared mission. For example, I observed an education related study that was tweeted by education reporters get re-tweeted by and among several education advocacy organizations over the span of several days – a pattern in which I was also participating. Although it’s a great way to share information with colleagues and allies, I realized this would not be a very effective strategy if my goals are to broaden the reach of my outreach, awareness and advocacy efforts.
Through listening, I discovered there are many people and organizations who are sharing information and engaging in dialog about the same issues and topics– just not in the same way. For example, I noticed quite a lot of parent groups and individual bloggers talking about summer learning loss in a personal context (i.e. activities for their kids), and outdoor education advocates talking about summer learning, but in contexts other than education policy. Both parents and outdoor education advocates are stakeholders for our issues, so I set out to engage them by listening closely to their conversations and chiming in when there appeared to be an opportunity to connect. For example, I found a parent chat on Twitter about summer learning and tweeted a related parent survey at the organizer. She posted it on her blog and is now following my tweets, as are a number of her followers. On another occasion I responded to an outdoor education advocate’s tweet about summer programs, and was invited to join their Ning. Despite the initial discomfort with initiating contact with groups outside of my existing circle of allies, I am quite pleased with the outcomes and am glad I made the effort to reach out.

Lab Note Book
: Listening

3/26: Recommendations for RSS readers? I'm realizing I need some sort of a "tether" or "dashboard" for my various keyword searches. I want to be able to monitor keyword searchers AND do some sort of analytics (in the style of socialmention).

4/2: Related to today's insight posted below, I'm wondering what is the best tool to use for monitoring the popularity of specific hashtags. Anyone have suggestions?

4/27: This is kind of an odd one: I am helping a client promote one of their events and today I did a little twitter hashtag search to see if anyone was talking about the event yet. Apparently, the three letter hashtag that my client is using for their eventis the same as one being used by the Democratic Left Alliance in Poland in a prolific, ongoing twitter conversation on Polish politics. My question is this: to what extent should organizations strive to "claim" a unique hashtag on twitter? Character space is at a premium, so naturally the shorter acronyms make sense. But then there's always the very real possibility that someone else has claimed it as "unique" to them. Thoughts?

3/26: Conducting keyword searches for our key subject areas, I'm finding that when it comes to picking material off the web, many of the terms that we use in the out-of-school time/expanded learning field are a little ambiguous (e.g. "youth work") or generate too wide a search (e.g. "after school"). I think my challenge of the next several weeks will be to identify terms that are unique to the field and key subject areas.

3/31: Aha, Google Keyword Tool! It paid off to revisit the listening tips presentation.

4/2: Hashtags are my friends. Once I identified some popular keywords via the Google keyword tool, I set up some RSS feeds for those keywords in Twitter. Not too successful. As an example, amongst the results for "summer learning" I found personal statements such as "I'd like to spend my summer learning to play the ukelele" and a disconcerting number of articles about Hamas(?!). Then I remembered the hashtag. What I like about them is that they point to specific concepts and are used intentionally by folks who want others interested in them to be able to find them - kind of like bookmarks. As a courtesy to my fellow keyword seekers, I'm making a mental note to add them to my tweets and I would encourage everyone to do the same. I doubt that something like #afterschool or #childdevelopment will even come close to topping the trending topics list, but that might be an interesting group experiment.

4/9: First success with advanced search on Social Mention. Noticed that my "#afterschool" SocialMention rss feed was bringing up a lot of posts about a popular K-pop band called After School, whose hashtag also happens to be "#afterschool." Many of the posts also included the hashtag "#kpop" so I created an advanced search that excluded that tag. So far, it's done a good job of filtering out the band references.

5/10: I've been doing the majority of my "listening" on Twitter, and I'm following a celebrity who was briefly championing one of my client's causes several years ago. Noticing that he has some really strong opinions on some very controversial issues. I'm thinking that if these tools had been around several years ago, it would have been a very helpful exercise to listen to what he was saying without the benefit of a PR filter. Social networking provides a platform for spontaneous, open -and more casual - dialogue, and because of that, I feel it is something that advocates should pay attention to with regard to what their spokespeople are saying outside of the press releases and when the cameras are off.

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