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Welcome to VNHSNJ, your source for all things social media. From Facebook fans and likes to Twitter followers to YouTube views, here you'll find out how to make the most of social media to help your business grow its online presence.

 

Mobile Devices Increasingly Being Used To Save Lives In Emergencies

From tornadoes to terrorist attacks, when an emergency strikes, people in the affected area start posting about it on social media, especially from their mobile phones.

Increasingly, emergency response officials monitor these posts to enhance their understanding of the unfolding situation -- and this information can prove very useful when deciding where to deploy response or relief efforts.

At a recent conference, Russ Johnson, director for public safety and homeland security for ESRI (a leading vendor of geographic information systems, or GIS), explained how mobile social media is changing the way emergency response and recovery works. For instance, in the aftermath of an earthquake, "there are usually people in the affected region, including the general public, tweeting or posting to other services," said Johnson. "And for really big emergencies that go on for a while, often someone sets up a crowdsourced map with Ushahidi."

"Field commanders might look at that real-time information and realize that their model of the situation is off. So they might decide: Let's divert a team to this location over here."

The beauty of social media, said Johnson, is that it "multiplies your ability to have sensors on ground to gather information."

However, in an emergency, not all tweets are equally useful. One of the difficulties with putting social-media posts from the public to use in emergencies is that this information is free form and often incomplete. For instance, someone might tweet, "Power lines down," but neglect to specify the location.

The public can use social media to aid emergency response. "If they can provide actual information, not just interesting communication, that's most helpful."

Power and data connections often go down during emergencies, and voice calls (including 911 calls) might not go through, but cell networks often can still carry some SMS text messaging traffic.

If you use Twitter, you can set up your phone to tweet via SMS. Then -- if you can do so without endangering yourself or others -- you can try posting useful information about what's happening around you in the wake of an emergency.

Don't try to capture every detail -- that runs down your phone battery, and there probably are more important things to do than stand around tweeting. But for crucial intelligence, a few key tweets can alert authorities and perhaps summon aid.

What to tweet in the immediate aftermath of an emergency? Keep your messages short, clear, and specific. Use keywords that you think emergency responders would search for. Location information (especially town names and roads or intersections) is especially useful.

If you know the Twitter IDs of local emergency response agencies, news outlets, or other relevant people or organizations, include them as "@ replies" in your tweets to get their attention. They might retweet or otherwise pass along your messages to officials.

Now You See It, Now You Don't - Social App Sends Pictures That Don't Last

More than 60 million photos or messages are sent each day through an app called Snapchat and then, after they are viewed for a few seconds, the missives vanish. That disappearing act — and a volume that is over a tenth of the well-established Facebook’s — has made the tiny start-up a technology hit, amassing millions of users and the backing of some of the most respected names in Silicon Valley, even though it doesn’t make any money.

Many young people are growing tired of the polished profiles and the advertising come-ons of Facebook, recent surveys have shown. Moreover, young Facebook users are becoming acutely aware of the permanence of the content shared through the Web — and its repercussions later in life. As perceptions of social media change, other start-ups, including Wickr and Vidburn and Facebook’s own Poke, have recently released messaging and video products that self-destruct after a set period of time.

“It became clear how awful social media is,” said one of Snapchat’s founders, Evan Spiegel, 22. “There is real value in sharing moments that don’t live forever.”

Because images sent through the application self-destruct seconds after they are opened, Snapchat is being embraced as an antidote to a world where nearly every feeling, celebration and life moment is captured to be shared, logged, liked, commented on, stored, searched and sold. For people who don’t want to worry about unflattering pictures or embarrassing status updates coming back to haunt them, the app’s appeal seems obvious.

The Snapchat service, which started two years ago but has steadily gained users, has been painted as a popular way for people, especially teenagers, to send naughty pictures. But Mr. Spiegel and his co-founder, Bobby Murphy, 24, say Snapchat is gaining traction for more than R-rated exchanges. Mr. Murphy describes the service “a digital version of passing notes in class.”

“You can’t build a business off sexting,” said Mr. Spiegel, using the term for sending racy pictures via text message chats. “It’s such a specific-use case. This is about much more than that.”

Sean Haufler, 21, a computer science major at Yale who uses Snapchat, said he thought it was “dumb” when his younger sister, a high school student, first told him about it. But he began to realize that it was a much more intimate way to communicate with friends. The emotional weight of the content is heavier, he said, because messages are direct and personal. Plus, he said, “the time limits make people more comfortable.”

Mitch Lasky, who led Benchmark’s cash infusion, said he first heard about the app from his 16-year-old daughter. “I started hearing Snapchat in the same context as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook,” he said. “That got me curious.”

His firm was aware of the company’s seedier reputation with sexting, but the partners “saw the bigger picture” for the company’s potential foothold in the world of social media.

“People are very self-aware when it comes to their Facebook profiles,” he said. “All the content is very manicured and curated, the best possible portrait of yourself.”

Facebook has certainly taken notice of the desire for impermanence, especially as Snapchat, according to Nielsen statistics, attracted 3.4 million users in December, more than twice as many as the month before. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, met with the company in December, according to Snapchat’s founders. Shortly after, Facebook started a similar product called Poke.

It was, if nothing else, an endorsement of the idea that the short-lived might have lasting value. In an interview in East Palo Alto, Calif., Peter Deng, Facebook’s director of product management, said Poke was in line with the company’s strategy of experimenting. “The demand comes from real life,” he said. “People want something that is more lightweight than a message and less permanent.”

Snapchat operates far from the world of Silicon Valley in a beach house in Venice Beach. Nonetheless, the start-up has caught the eye of Silicon Valley financiers.

Scott D. Cook, the founder of Intuit and a prominent entrepreneur and investor, has taken the Snapchat founders under his wing, and the start-up recently raised $13.5 million in venture financing, led by Benchmark Capital, which values the company at $60 million to $70 million even without an established revenue stream.

“People are looking to communicate in a real way,” Mr. Lasky said. “The real self, as opposed to the projected self. That was the piece that resonated the most with me.” Some backers see the possibility of Snapchat making money by allowing advertisers to send coupons or fashion ideas.

Social Media Can Be Used To Improve a Business

How will Twitter sell sweets at your ice cream parlor? How will Facebook fill your restaurant or sell your handmade frocks? I've heard the complaint from small business owners and professionals a million times: "How can I monetize social media?"

Mitch Goldstone has owned a photo-developing shop in Irvine, California, since 1990. He used to develop 24-exposure film cartridges. Today he takes those shoe boxes of photos under your bed and scans them so you can use them online. Scanmyphoto.com has 10,600 followers on Twitter and Goldstone has sent 32,000 tweets.

He doesn't just self-promote. He shares links and product reviews, and blends into a running conversation online about all things photo. His presence on Twitter and Facebook has taken his Irvine photo shop international. He scans photos from three miles away in Irvine to thousands of miles away in Australia.

"If you're not into social media social networking you will be out of business. I'm going to repeat that: You will be out of business if you don't tweet, use Facebook, and social media today," Goldstone says.

Ido Leffler is the co-founder of natural beauty brand "Yes To..." When an expensive traditional print marketing campaign fell flat, he and his partner turned to social media to find the face to their product. Their Facebook campaign attracted 150,000 fans and sales doubled in six months.

Social media, in his view, is an equalizer. Anyone can use it, and using it well means new customers. "Today you don't have to spend any money at all to set up a Facebook fan page. You don't need a huge marketing fund to set up a Twitter account. You need zero," Leffler says.

Listen to what your customers are saying about your business through social media. Answer them individually if you can. Word of mouth, good and bad, can have a powerful effect on sales. If it's bad, ask your customers how you can do better.