One of the things I’ve struggled with during my online career is how to figure out what impact, if any, I’m actually creating with all my blogging, tweeting, and other online social media activity. It would be nice to show a potential funding agency or employer that I’m not just farting around on the internet. I’m actually accomplishing something.
Farting around on the internet.
There are a lot of different ways that you can try to measure how far your online efforts are spreading your ideas. (BTW, there is a large and argumentative literature about the differences between Assessment, Evaluation, and Measurement. I am going to stick with the less controversial term ‘Measurement’ here.)
You can track your traffic using Google Analytics. You can count how many followers you have on Twitter, Friends on Facebook, Followers on G+, and Pinheads (?) on Pinterest. But before you jump into measuring, stop and think. You are a scientist. Would you run around measuring all possible variables for an experiment? I hope not.
Start with WHY you are online. What do you want to accomplish? I really like this graphic, because it shows how what you measure should be driven by your goals.
When I started blogging, I wanted to try to get better at writing for a non-technical audience (personal goal) and I wanted to get more people thinking insects are cool (squidgy professional goal). Those are not, of course, proper goals. But it’s a start.
I’ve had 1.3 million visits to my blog. But what does that really mean in terms of my goals? That traffic could just be the result of very good search engine optimization. It might be a million people clicking through, going “Damn it, no porn!” and then leaving.
If you are counting followers, or blog visits, you probably have an upward trending line. Yay! But that doesn’t actually mean that you are changing any behavior, or having any influence. What you want to know is how many “Likes”, RTs, comments, or other sorts of things that show people actually engaging with your content there are.
What’s an appropriate metric for those goals? Google Analytics data for length of time on a page tells me if people found my writing interesting enough to stay for a while. Number of return visitors tells me if people ever come back, or if they read one thing, and then decide that’s enough.
Don’t measure everything from the giant firehose of internet data. Choose metrics that actually help decide if you’re heading toward your goals, or at least give an indirect measure.
Do you really need to keep track of any of this stuff?
That depends on your goal! If you really are messing around on the internet just for fun, then why worry about investing time in this sort of record keeping? That’s time you aren’t writing awesome stuff.
On the other hand, you might want this info for a portfolio. Much better to have some data than none. You can set up a few monthly routines or use some automated tools to gather basic info that you might want, so it won’t eat a lot of your time.
This post will focus on Quantitative data about your online activity–things you can measure. You should also save things that are qualitative–really nice comments, emails, or other interactions. Those are nice for portfolios, and also preserve moments you can look back on for a warm fuzzy feeling.
There are good tools out there that can give you lots of data about your social media and blogs. Many of them are expensive, but some are free. Lets look at some of the biggest free ones. Continue reading
Welcome to part 2 of the series on social media! This series of tips will focus on how to make your online reading more efficient.
Social Media Tip #4: Work Smarter, not Harder.
I love the internet. Billions of fascinating bits of information, lovely photos, and hilarious viral videos are uploaded daily.
That would also be the primary problem with the internet.
It’s easy to end up curled in a fetal ball under your desk just thinking about all the journals you aren’t reading, but that you think you should. And that’s the boring stuff.
What amazing podcasts and blog posts are you missing? What fresh hell of asshattery is some politician spouting off about? The most important corollary to Tip 4 is:
4.1. Give yourself permission to not read everything.
You can’t read it all. It’s impossible. So stop feeling guilty about it.
4.2. No. Seriously. Don’t try to read it all.
Later in this post, I will explain how you can have have all the awesomeness of the internet delivered to you automatically. That can then become an additional source of stress.
Journal Table of Contents in your inbox? For a journal you haven’t looked at in months? Unsubscribe.
Feed or bookmark for a blog that updates rarely, or doesn’t match your interests anymore? Delete.
Be realistic. If you have a bunch of stuff sitting in your inbox, and you haven’t read it in weeks? It’s not urgent, and you can just delete or archive it.
Before you start using any of the tools I’m going to tell you about, take a hard look at what you are doing right now in terms of your reading and work habits. What can you stop doing?
Look at your “dumb things I gotta do” list and get rid of items that are vague. Take a day and clean your inbox and workspace completely. Have you turned off your email notifications, so that you aren’t interrupted constantly? Everything piled up digitally or physically around you is taking up emotional space.
This paper (just pages 4-8 to skip the academic jargon) has a very nice summary of the Getting Things Done methodology. Give it a look. GTD made a HUGE difference in my stress levels when I found it 7 yrs ago.
Now you are ready, grasshopper.
4.3 Use tools to make the time you spend sifting and looking for information as short and convenient as possible.
Still clicking through a bunch of bookmarks to look at stuff? Dude. UR Doin’ It Wrong. You can have information delivered to you!
Many of my readers already know this, but I find that when I start talking about “RSS feeds” to my medium to low-tech-savvy friends, eyes tend to glaze over. So let’s have a very brief review, and then jump into tools I like.
XML is basically a type of web language that contains the content of a blog, newspaper, or many other types of media, stripped of formatting and packaged to be portable. XML feeds are usually indicated with an icon; this orange RSS one is the most common. Here’s the Bug Blog Feed, for example. Because of this packaging, you can have news, blog posts and comments, or journal Table of Contents ported into a web application or emailed to you at your convenience.
Personally, I try to avoid having emails sent, because it not only further clutters my inbox, but it is delivered to me when it’s convenient for the publisher, not me. Then it sits there in the inbox. J’accuse! You have not done your reading!
Email is such a bastard sometimes.
4.4. Sometimes being a tool is a good thing.
Here are my favorite tools to automate my reading; most of them work on a “dashboard” model that allows you to arrange your feeds into groups, and even play a little with colors. The key here is that I retrieve information when it is convenient for ME. Not when it is published.
- Hootsuite (Yes, the same tool that automates your social media posting!)
- Google Alerts
Hi All! I have been super busy, but there is such an awesome online entomology community of blogs and commenters, I know you aren’t starved for bug info.
I wanted to pass on some tricks I’ve learned to make your entomological social media efforts more efficient. These tips are not in any particular order, and the numbering doesn’t represent priority. I’m sure that people will chime in with additional suggestions in the comments.
Hopefully this will help you spread the gospel of bugs more effectively! You might also find reading things I’ve written about social media in the past helpful–they are linked at the bottom of this post.
Look for a series of posts on this topic over the next few weeks. Why yes! This is part of my
evil secret special plan for my BugMediaEmpire™.
Tip #1: Don’t be a fire hose.
I occasionally see folks post about 20 links in quick succession. That makes total sense if you are posting things as you’re sitting and reading; but it isn’t as effective as spreading your posting out over an entire day.
If you post 20 things at 10am, and I’m stuck in a meeting from 10am to Noon? I might never see any of what you posted. The rest of the world is posting too, and piling on top of my Twitter and Facebook streams.
Don’t even get me started about the crazy way Facebook decides for me what I should see. GRRRR. There is a fair amount of data about how long a post is “alive” on Facebook. Basically, after 3 hours, your post pretty much ceases to be shown in the news feed unless it gets a lot of early Likes and shares. This makes the timing of a post on Facebook especially important.
Corollary Tip 1.1: don’t post about every damn thing you eat or wear, unless your topic focus is food and shoes.
Tip #2: The best time to post should be driven by your audience’s schedule, not yours.
Most people’s posting is driven by when they have free time at the computer. That may or may not match up to when your readers are online. But how do you know when the best time to post is?
You can find out when people are looking at your blog using Google Analytics, but that may not tell you when people are looking at your social media streams. Blogs take longer to read, and I’m less likely to look at them during work hours, for example.
You can ball-park your timing by paying attention to when you seem to be getting the most Likes, RTs, or Reshares. It’s a lot easier to use one of many websites out there that help you sort out what times people are reading based on traffic data. A utility like Topsy, for example, will give you specific traffic information for keywords. Lunchtime and from 3-5pm are generally the peak times people are mentioning “entomology” on Twitter in this particular sample, but you can also see that it varies from day to day, and that the effect is relative to the keyword.
If what you are posting includes a link, you can monitor your traffic that way too. Bit.ly is not just a URL shortener, but it also tracks how many people click your link, and where they are. There are also paid social media analytics like EdgeRankChecker that produce amazingly detailed data, but since I am a broke-ass academic, I don’t use them.
The easiest way to manage all of this, especially for multiple social media streams, is to automate your posting, and use a tool that will post your info at peak times.
Tip #3: Use an auto-posting utility to manage your social media streams.
I have 5 primary streams of social media content for the BugMediaEmpire™ that I actively manage: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook (personal page), Facebook (official blog page), and Google+. I also have Pinterest and YouTube pages, but I don’t do much with them other than create insect-themed song playlists.
Professionally, I manage several university Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as FB pages, blogs, and twitter feeds for multiple non-profit organizations.
Um. Yeah. My name is Bug Girl, and I’m a social media addict.
The point is, I’ve got a lot going on.
A common question I get is “When do you sleep!? You are always posting things on Twitter and Facebook!”
I sleep a lot, actually; I just get up in the morning and set out a day’s worth of posts while I’m drinking my coffee. That way I can post something at Midnight EST for the West Coast crowd, or at 6am when the UK is going to sleep. That also lets me post things when I’m at work and forbidden to access many off-campus websites.
Here’s what my post stream looks like on an average day. This is actually just 3 main topics, repeated several times for different media streams. I also let Hootsuite decide when to Retweet (RT) people if it isn’t time sensitive, so we both get to share the optimally timed love.
Does it work? For the most part, yes. I do seem to get more Likes and RTs using the autopost timing feature. Unfortunately, the free version of Hootsuite is rather opaque about just exactly HOW it is coming up with this data. I’m sure if I had the paid version, it would become clearer.
The scheduling in advance feature is especially useful for the university and non-profit accounts that I manage. I can set out a whole semester’s worth of tweets and Facebook posts, or schedule reminders for a grant deadline months in advance. All I have to do is occasionally look in to make sure no one is posting nasty spam, and add a few timely news items or photos. Much, much less work. DON’T TELL MY BOSS.
So there you go, half of my secret to being omnipresent online. The other half is using online tools that allow me to organize what I read in more efficient ways. That’s the topic of my next tip post!
Caveats and Disclaimers:
- If you decide to use some of these auto-schedule or other social media management tools, be aware that you are giving them the keys to your digital kingdom. You give these applications the ability to post under your name everywhere. Make sure your passwords are very secure.
- Each one of the tools I’ve tried has some small aggravating glitches. Hootsuite, for example, will post to a G+ business page, but not to a personal account. It doesn’t have a way to autoschedule and select a date months in the future (although you can do that manually). On the other hand, all the tools I’ve mentioned here are FREE. Which pretty much makes them perfect.
- There might be a downside to using these third party applications to auto-post. Because of the way in which Facebook determines what you see, auto-posted items using third-party APIs may to be at a small disadvantage compared with posts done manually. It’s not clear how future Facebook changes will affect this in the future. I can say with confidence that Facebook will change the way that they display information soon, and it will piss us all off. Again.
Other things I’ve written about Social Media:
You may know that in my regular life, when I’m not Bug G. Membracid, I have a job advising students, among other things. In the spirit of “do as I say, not as I do” in terms of career advice, when someone recommended some online reputation tools to students, I wanted to try them out.
The first tool I looked at was Reppler. It sells itself as a way to find potentially damaging content that might spook potential employers.You have to connect it to your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts for it to work, which is the first hurdle. Essentially, you give them access to troll through your entire posting history.
I have the perfect paired test–My Bug Girl online identity, and my IRL identity. How did they compare? Well, looks like it’s a good thing that I kept those separate! Here is the rating for my Real Self: 88 out of 100. (The score was a 90 until I hooked up my Linked In account, which was “neutral”–that was enough to lower my score.)
When you look at my Bug G. Membracid score, well. Oh dear. Clearly there are some issues.
But what counts as “inappropriate content?”
Apparently, Arse is a dirty word. But fanny is not. You can see the categories that they search in this screenshot. Mentioning Alcohol is bad. In fact, on the post flagged here, I was explaining that I couldn’t drink beer, because I was allergic. It still showed up as negative content.
Reppler flagged the word “vagina” as adult content, even though it was a reference to the recent news story in Michigan. It also seems to know that “F**K” is a euphemism, and flagged it as “strong language.”
Sounds terrible–but what was my score, with all this negative content? 80. Only a few points lower than my IRL score! This makes no sense–why is my squeaky clean real identity score downgraded for being neutral, and my Bug Girl Profile rated so highly, despite vaginas and alcohol?
Well, you gotta have a gimmick, and online reputation monitors are useful for people that create online profiles and walk away, I suppose. For me personally, I laugh everytime I get the report (“You have 23 new Inappropriate Content Alerts!!”), so there is a high entertainment factor.
And this is all very interesting, but what do employers see? If you have everything marked private, they can’t find you, right? Not so fast. Take a look at the reports from Social Intelligence, a background checking tool marketed to employers. They managed to find a fair amount of embarrassing material on this writer. The good news is that most of the deep search tools are not free–but a major employer will almost certainly have a subscription to a service like SI and check you out.
Another tool commonly used is PIPL. With just my real name and state, I was able to find a list of everywhere I had lived for the last 10 years, plus my age and phone number. Yikes! Had I been willing to give up some cash, I could have gotten an extremely detailed report about myself that probably would have creeped me out for days. PIPL doesn’t tell you anything about your online reputation, but it will produce a detailed history of your movements and employment–which would be useful to an employer verifying your resume.
I was happy to see that PIPL picked up a lot of Bug Girls online that weren’t me, and that I still had my plausible identity intact.
In summary, the best way to keep your online reputation is to not do anything really stupid. If you are having a bad day, or are angry, walk away from the computer. And that advice is free, and requires no subscription.
Pinterest keeps popping up in the news, and I’m constantly getting notifications that “Jane Schmo pinned something!” As someone who bills herself as a social media goddess, I clearly needed to check this Pinterest thing out. Some background:
“Pinterest is a pinboard-style social photo sharing website. The service allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections….In January 2012, Pinterest drove more referral traffic to retailers than LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+ combined (source)….Pinterest is definitely worth taking a look at, particularly if your audience is female, likes pretty things and likes buying online.”
Wel, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. *cough*
Essentially, it’s online shopping in a million stores. The Pinterest mission is to “connect everyone through the “things“ they find interesting.” And it is, certainly, about THINGS.
Pinterest is basically Delicious with pretty pictures. Delicious is/was a useful bookmarking site to help you re-find cool stuff that you saw on the web. The need to save links somewhere other than your browser tool bar is a common one; Pinterest has figured out how to turn that into traffic-driving merch.
A couple of features Pinterest has that might be interesting to scientists:
- You can allow friends to share and pin onto your boards–so I could crowdsource my insect music collection, for example, for a more comprehensive list of resources.
- The board discovery feature allows people who might not traditionally be connected to the science community (i.e, women that like pretty things and shopping) to see that there are scientists that share their interests, or that have interesting things to offer
- You can create unexpected resources–a board of insect recipes, for example, might be a good way to expose people to the concept of entomophagy; a collection of plans for building native bee boxes might help people find them more easily.
There are also a lot of things that don’t work at all on Pinterest, or that are poorly designed. If you want to re-arrange your pins on a board so that your favorites are at the top, or related things are together–you can’t do that. Things are stuck in the order you pinned them in. Which, if your purpose for using the site is to save and organize your bookmarks, destroys some of its usefulness.
I have tried several times to pin things (like insect recipes!) that I wasn’t able to pin because there were no images on the web page. That makes the bookmark utility of the site moot.
The toggles for privacy levels are confusing, and I constantly have to stop and do a search (on an external site, since Pinterest Help documentation is minimal) to figure out how to make it STOP subscribing me to people, or to unsubscribe from the automatic connections Pinterest creates.
This screen is a good example of some of the strange interface choices. If I want to unsubscribe to the person, the Unfollow button is faded out. But…that is actually the active button. And red usually means stop. Eh?
I freely admit to being a curmudgeon, so you may find Pinterest more interesting than I did. I don’t feel a need for something like Pinterest. I don’t shop a lot, and I find the way that it’s difficult to see the original source of the image a bit problematic (as, apparently, do a lot of other people).
I’m pretty much with Abraham Lincoln on this one: ”People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
On the other hand, I really, really want these tights with ants on them.
UPDATE 3/19/12: Symbiartic has an alarming look at the terms of service for Pinterest, from the standpoint of an artist. Rather disturbing!