Monthly Archives: May 2011

Status Updates Vs. Real Experience

People love to credit digital cameras for their ability to take incessant photos.  Film never stopped me, though.  I have bins and bins filled to the brim with photos and negatives.  I captured every moment on film the same way most people now record them digitally. Digital just further enabled my budding photography addiction.  My photography obsession is based entirely on its archival abilities.  Every photograph is a documentary, cataloging every instant of my life both big and small.

I’ve become so consumed with photography that I have a tough time letting a moment pass with my family and friends without a camera in hand.  I love looking through my pictures.  I love that people are impressed when I get the perfect shot.  The only problem is that when you spend that much effort trying to capture every moment on film (or a SIM card), you let those prized moments slip right past you.

Social Media shares the same quality.  Every status update captures a feeling or an opinion about something we’re experiencing.   It fascinates me that Facebook is like my very own time capsule.  There are even apps to generate albums from your Facebook photos and status updates.  This archival quality is the exact element that feeds my photography addiction.  It’s an incredible record of experiences from the momentous to the mundane.  Though, sometimes I wonder if my desire to connect online distracts me from connecting in person.

Last weekend I was forced to put this theory to the test.  Saturday was my second wedding… to the same guy.  Most people don’t get the opportunity to get married to the same person twice, but I highly recommend it!  Thursday morning, amidst wedding planning chaos, my iPhone finally kicked the bucket.  On one hand, I was thrilled to buy my new Android.  On the other hand, with a house full of guests and a list of last minute errands, I had zero time to learn how it worked.

My cell phone is more like my home office than a phone.  It’s within reach at any given moment.  My husband even joked that I might interrupt the priest to quickly reply to an email during the ceremony.  I was beyond familiar with my iPhone.  Without thinking I could check my four email accounts, update my Facebook status and return a text or two.  Being unacquainted with my new phone meant I was suddenly disconnected for the entire weekend – a first in a very long time.  When it buzzed, I had no idea if it meant I had a text or an email, much less what the fastest way to check either was.  I hadn’t set up my Facebook or Twitter apps yet, meaning I had to access my phone’s actual internet browser to check my profiles – much too time consuming for my liking.

As I drove around Saturday morning running last minute errands before the ceremony, I had to fight the urge to pull out my phone while driving and respond to emails or see what was happening on Facebook.  (Some people would call that a traffic violation.  I like to think of it as multi-tasking).  With my new phone, I couldn’t jump to my emails without staring at the screen.

At one point, while sitting at a stoplight I managed to check Facebook and see a comment about my soon-to-be second wedding.  Just like a photograph, friends’ comments marked the occasion – mostly with jokes about getting remarried to the same person after only 5 years.  I was already anticipating how I would update my status throughout the day or post pictures of myself in my new BCBG dress.  I compiled a mental list of the photos I planned to take throughout the day.

Then something significant happened.  I came face-to-face with the realization that you can’t take photos of your own wedding.  This was a big deal considering we hadn’t hired a photographer for Wedding #2 and I’m usually the one snapping away at family occasions.  As I handed my SLR over, I considered all the times that I was so determined to preserve the moment, that I didn’t really appreciate being in the moment itself.

The funny thing about weddings is that they fly by in a split second and if you don’t savor every second it will just seem like a blur.  Given that this wasn’t my first rodeo, I knew this all too well.  As I stood on an altar and exchanged my vows for a second time, I decided to completely let go of all other thoughts and really let the moment sink in.  Any concerns about status updates or work emails were overtaken by pure enjoyment.  I let go of my cyber life and the desire to update anyone who wasn’t present.  I let it sink in how moved I was that my husband of five years still had to fight back a tear or two when he saw me walk down the aisle.  It was incredible!

I tried to keep that mentality as the reception got underway.  All morning I had thought about the status updates and photos I would post online.  Instead, every time I considered pulling out my phone, I opted to dance with my niece or catch up with relatives and friends that I hadn’t seen in some time.  I basically avoided any interaction that was limited to 140 characters or less.  It was an interesting phenomenon.

Occasionally, throughout the night I felt the urge to mention something, anything, about what was going on.  Social Media and smart phones make it all too convenient to connect with people in real time.  Sometimes it feels as though postponing a possible status update by an hour or, god forbid a day, will mean it’s no longer relevant.  I finally had to resign myself to the fact that I would just have to rely on mental snapshots.  It ended up being the best party I’d been to in a long time (and I’m not just saying that because I got to shove cake in my husband’s face).

Sunday morning, I woke up to the realization that we never got the group photo that I had planned on and I wasn’t even sure that my husband and I had taken a picture just the two of us the entire evening.  Normally, that would kill me, but the whole day was so perfectly engrained in my memory that the photos were just icing on my delicious mango wedding cake.

I still haven’t posted anything about the ceremony on Facebook.  Unless someone else uploaded their photos, you won’t find a picture of John and me sharing our first kiss as husband and wife… again.  Obsessing over updating our status as events unfold and being tethered to our email and text feels like a great way to stay connected, but causes such a disconnect to the events unfolding around us and the people standing right in front of our faces.  Now don’t get me wrong, the second the dust settles I plan to clock some serious get-to-know-you time with my new phone and a Facebook album with follow shortly thereafter.  But this weekend served as a powerful reminder to stop and smell the roses every once in a while… not text about them, not take a picture of them, not comment on Facebook about them… Just enjoy them. 


It’s Just A Game – Part 2

Foursquare and Twitter have their own sets of rules.  But what makes a game a game?  Having a winner and a loser – or at the very least keeping score.  Klout is an online service that does just that.  It grades you based on your Social Media influence.  It calculates how many people will view any given update you post on Facebook or Twitter.  Then it gauges how many of those viewers will actually do something because of your post –such as click, “Like”, or retweet.  With those variables, they assign you a score from 1-100.  The higher your score, the better you are at the Social Media game and the more people want to associate with you online.  Your Klout ranking quickly assesses whether you are in fact a winner or a loser.

Whether the rules are obvious, like with Foursquare, or a matter of trial and error, like Twitter, there certainly are rewards for playing the game correctly.  For any brand, high Klout scores and plenty of followers may lead to the holy grail of Twitter rewards… a little blue check next to your name!  That little mark means you have so many engaged fans and therefore SO much online influence, that Twitter needed to obtain documentation to prove you are who you say you are online.  That little blue check means you are so significant that you made it onto Twitter’s radar – and anyone who knows anything about Twitter, knows you’re kind of a big deal.

The Foursquare equivalent would be the coveted “SuperUser” badge.  It’s a strange reward.  You essentially become an unpaid intern.  You edit inaccuracies and grammatical errors or merge duplicate venue listings on their website.  For a dedicated user, though, this title means you are a hardcore Foursquare user.  Similarly, if you rack up the highest number of visits to a specific business, you earn the Mayor designation (way cooler than a badge).  This honor is a little more up my alley because it can come with perks.  There can only be one mayor for any given location, making the rewards more exclusive and the title more competitive.  Discounts and special offers are commonly offered to Mayors nationwide.  Checkers offer Mayors a free milkshake with every visit.  Site For Sore Eyes awards a year’s worth of free contact lenses.   An LA real estate agency even dolls out $1000 reward if you find them a buyer for one of their listings.  As Foursquare and Groupon consider joining forces, discounts and coupons for specific badges and Mayorships will become even more widespread and more competitive.

Users Check In to Foursquare at all hours of the day and night.   When it comes to the Social Media game, there is no Time Out.  It is constant.  It doesn’t stop on weekends or holidays.  It doesn’t go to sleep.  It also lacks forgiveness, as we learned from our TSV tweet fiasco.  At times, the race to become a winner can feel downright exhausting.  If you’re like me, that’s when you turn to Facebook.  Facebook is my safe haven from the Social Media game.  I don’t accept strangers as my friends.  It’s filled with people, who like in real life, cut me some slack when I get busy and don’t drop me as a friend because I didn’t have time to post something that day.

When the ceaseless game starts feeling like an obligation, do the prizes keep us coming back?  Is a $1 discount off your favorite coffee worth the hassle of Checking In every time you swing by Starbucks?  Is constant vigilance over your tweets and your followers worth that little blue check mark?

Everyone plays the Social Media game for different reasons.  Businesses love Foursquare because it encourages visitors to return over and over and over again.  Foursquare patrons are rewarded with discounts, special offers, or just the amusement of crossing badges off their list.  A high Klout number or Verified Twitter status is a status symbol for any brand.  It signifies influence.  It puts you on the map as a leader in your industry.

Losing 20 Twitter followers in a day was an immediate warning that as a business, we couldn’t afford NOT to play the game.  It’s not always straightforward, and it’s rarely something you can be good at if you only practice intermittently – But the winners go home with some great prizes.

Don’t miss out on It’s Just a Game – Part 1

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It’s Just A Game – Part 1

When did being social online turn into so much work?  Somewhere along the way, the rules changed.  Now there are guidelines and protocol you need to follow. Social Networks feature unique versions of scoring and prizes.  Social Media is now a game… plain and simple.  It’s a game with very obvious winners and losers and your score is determined in real time. The consequences are immediate and passivity is punished.  Is the payoff worth the trouble?

Foursquare doesn’t describe themselves as game anywhere on their website.  But how can it not be?  It has rules and rewards.  It even makes you compete for titles.  Foursquare doesn’t just let you “Check In” to the businesses you visit on a regular basis.  It also keeps a tally of how many times you visit each location and how often.  The rules are simple: The more you visit, the closer you get to earning badges.  Badges don’t necessarily entitle you to any special privileges or special discounts, but they have some pretty cool titles like “Superstar” or “Jet Setter.”

Foursquare is like playing Super Mario Brothers.  (That’s right, I’m old school).   You play level after level until you finally come face to face with Bowser.  After defeating him in a momentous battle, he still manages to escape with the princess. You have to follow him to the next level if you ever want to conquer him.  Every time you beat a new level, you are very aware of how much closer you are to your last Bowser faceoff.  You don’t brag about beating the first level.  You brag after you save the princess.

Foursquare is a lot like that.  No one wants the “Newbie” badge.  That means you’ve only Checked In to one place.  So you shoot for the “Adventurer” badge.  Afterall, it’s ony 9 Check Ins away.  Every time you go somewhere, you move one Check In closer to another badge.   (I’m guessing the creators look back pretty fondly on their days in the Boys Scouts.) 

It’s funny because Foursquare very specifically lays out how to get badges, but other Social Networks are not so obvious about their similarities to the gaming world.  Their rewards are a little different and the rules are harder to find and more difficult to follow.  Twitter doesn’t give out titles for the most followed.  It doesn’t say, “Hey, if you follow Mashable, you’ll pick up at least 5-10 new followers.”

It wasn’t until we had an unfortunate incident on Twitter that I made the gaming connection.   We had scheduled a day’s worth of tweets for The Social Vista to ensure a constant stream of quality content.  Little did we know that the site we scheduled them through was experiencing server problems.   No tweets were sent out for an entire day and we saw an immediate drop in our following…. After ONE day!  I was floored by the immediate response to our lack of activity.  All that hard work and diligence to make sure our Twitter page was constantly generating timely material was down the drain.

It made me think back to my former obsession with a Nintendo DS game called Animal Crossing.  I won’t go into all the game details here.  All you need to know is that it featured a little town and every day a few weeds would grow.  My character was supposed to pick those weeds every day or the other characters would get cranky.  If you missed one day of weeding, it was no big deal.  But miss a week or a month and it would be like starting the game all over again.  It required diligent observance and constant contact.

Twitter is the same in that you neglect your page for a day and you’ll lose some followers.  You neglect your page for a week or two – you might as well start over from scratch.  There are endless websites dedicated to teaching the unwritten rules of Twitter etiquette as well as tips and tricks to attract people to your site.  Fail to learn and follow the rules, and the consequences are hefty and immediate.  Hence the multitude of sites dedicated to finding out which followers left you and why.

The whole point of the game is to grow your following and keep the followers you have.  I’ll be the first to admit it – I get a little giddy when I open my email and see the list of new followers.  Then, I get a little bummed out when I see any of them jump ship before I even got a chance to DM them a “Thank You.”  Mind you, I’m not talking about friends and family cutting off their association with me.  I’m talking about perfect strangers… and yes… it bugs me.  People put just as much time into growing their following as they do into keeping it.

Why Would Anyone Check In?

If the term doesn’t sound familiar, “Checking In” is when you use your mobile device’s GPS to pinpoint your location – whether it’s at the local Starbucks or a trip to the CPA.  It then posts a status update that shares your location online.    When I first saw people “Check In” to places on Facebook, I could NOT understand the appeal.  In all honesty I considered it an invitation to have your house robbed.  It was like saying, “Hey, I’ll be at the sushi place across town.  I just got here, so you’ve got at least an hour to steal my TV.”

Regardless of how ridiculous I thought it was, Checking In quickly gained popularity.  Foursquare built their entire business model around the notion that people wanted to share their locations with friends and strangers alike.  Robbers be damned!  Now that one in five smartphone owners are hopping on this trend, I had to wrap my mind around what benefit they gained from it.  Sure, there can be prizes and coupons involved, but people Check In regardless of that – and in impressive numbers.

I can sum up the entire Checking In phenomenon in three words: Uncertainty Reduction Theory.  Everything related to Social Media ties into this concept – Checking In included.  It not only sheds light on why people Check In but reveals how it builds confidence in their decision-making!  To put it simply, people will do anything to feel comfortable.  Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable so we try to mitigate that feeling by any means possible.

To understand this theory, you only have to recognize one thing:  removing uncertainty, removes self-doubt.  In the absence of self-doubt, confidence increases.  Think back to any situation where you met a stranger.  Maybe it was at a bar, a work function, or a round of Speed Dating.  Regardless of the location or event, you probably engaged in a conversation that went a little like this:

          You: So, what do you do for a living?

          Stranger: I’m a doctor…  (Pause) What about you?

          You: I’m a real estate agent…  (Pause) Where do you work?

          Stranger: I work at Warm and Fuzzy Hospital.

          You: Really!!! My friend’s sister is a receptionist there!

           Stranger: Oh!  What’s her name?  Maybe I know her!

You are both relieved to find something in common.  In reality, who cares if your friend’s sister is a receptionist at some massive hospital where this strange doctor works?  This is not a substantial connection.  But finding any commonality, no matter how insignificant, reduced your uncertainty and therefore makes you both feel better about each other.  Afterall, what are the odds of him being a serial killer if he kinda sorta might know someone who knows someone who you know?  It may not be much, but it brings you one step closer to deciding whether you like one another or not.  The topics may vary, but we’ve all played this awkward round of 20 questions with a stranger.  We interrogate each other until we discoverany kind of similarity. Then we cling to that connection for dear life.

Uncertainty Reduction Theory is blatantly obvious in Social Networking.  Consider Facebook’s Friend Finder.  It’s genius.  It removes the first layer of ambiguity by telling you exactly how many friends you have in common.  The more friends you have in common, the better the odds that you will like them.   Just like you and the doctor got excited about your faint connection to the hospital receptionist, you are more likely to Friend someone who’s a friend of a friend.

Social Networking expedites the process by which we determine whether we like or dislike someone – without any of that pesky banter.  This makes us bolder in our decision-making abilities – in this case, the decision whether to accept someone as a friend.  If someone from my past friends me on Facebook, more often than not, I go on a fact-finding mission.  (This is a nice way of saying I stalk the hell out of them).   I look at their photos and their status updates.  Do we have any friends in common?  Are they funny?  Are they overly political?  With this newfound information in hand, I feel confident either Accepting or Denying their request.

Applying Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Social Networking is easy.  Let’s complicate things and take it a step further.  How did this theory dispel my disbelief about the popularity of Checking In?  Do we apply the same theory to products and places in determining whether we like them – just like we would a stranger at a party?

Consider  The main thing Amazon should credit its success to is not its endless list of products, competitive pricing, or free shipping.  It’s all in the reviews!  I can click on any product and find at least 20 reviews, often hundreds – each one building my familiarity with the product.  Reviews are knowledge.  Knowledge reduces uncertainty.   The less uncertain I am, the more confident I am in my purchase.

Sites like Yelp and Yahoo Local have done the same thing for businesses.  The only catch is that you can’t always guarantee that there will be 20 or more reviews on a single hair salon, restaurant, or CPA.  So when we find only one or two reviews, instead of instilling confidence, it actually ignites MORE uncertainty.  Your knowledge is limited.  What if two out of the four reviews were written by the owner?  What if the one awful review was from someone you would never associate with?

Which would you value more:  A recommendation from four strangers or a recommendation from one friend?   My friends win every time.  This is where Checking In becomes so valuable.  If your friend is the Mayor of Super Taqueria (meaning they’ve Checked In a LOT at this particular eatery), chances are that’s where you’ll be going the next time you’re in the mood for Mexican food.  It’s better than any advertising that can be bought because it removes uncertainty.  By Checking In, your friend has given an endorsement.  An endorsement from a friend removes a large amount of doubt, leaving us confident in our decision to patronize that particular business.

Coupons and prizes in return for Checking In are just the icing on the cake.  These offers may diminish any remaining uncertainty about a business, making it worthwhile to explore, but it’s not nearly as persuasive as a friend’s recommendation.  Simply put, when your friends Check In, you feel more comfortable with that business.  Or as Amazon proves, droves of strangers Checking In also instills assurance.  Apparently there is confidence in friends and confidence in numbers.

Uncertainty Reduction Theory explains why anybody does anything having to do with Social Media.  At its core, Social Media is about connecting with people and the world around us to make determinations about what we like and don’t like.  Publicizing that you “Like” something has even become part of the Facebook brand.   This theory  takes the associative art of friending people on Facebook and applies it to businesses.

Social Media is rooted in people’s desire to form a connection   At its core, it’s about finding commonality on even the most basic level: where we like to eat, what TV shows we choose to watch.  We crave these connections, no matter how big or small.  At the end of the day, those connections build our confidence in everything we do – from the people we friend on Facebook to the products we buy and the businesses we patronize.

Know Your Audience

Since beginning a career in Social Media I have received many kindhearted calls, emails, and messages wishing me success.  My favorite was a Facebook message that read, “Congratulations Teresa.  I have no idea what you’re doing but it sounds like a great opportunity.  Good for you.”  While sincere in their thoughtfulness, my well-wishers were equally confused about my new endeavor. 

While I love the honesty of my friends and family, I realize that clients and prospects may not be as blunt when it comes to their understanding of Social Media and its power as a marketing tool.  They know they need to be on Facebook and Twitter, but they don’t exactly know why… or even how. 

We all know the old saying about making assumptions, right!  As a Social Media Marketer the same thing applies when discussing your arsenal of resources.  Potential clients may be missing out on the value you offer if they do not understand the fundamental benefits of the medium itself.

1.  Your clients do NOT know what Twitter is.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  Chances are most people you talk to have heard of Twitter.  They might even think they know what Twitter is.  Lord knows, breaking the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death before any major networks created both legitimacy and recognition.  But the bottom line is that when it comes to Twitter, there are two types of people: People who have been on Twitter and people who have NOT been on Twitter.

Before I joined Twitter, I just thought it was Facebook on crack!  I assumed it was an outlet for those people on Facebook who insist on updating their status to let the world know that they tied their left shoe… and then 30 seconds later follow up with an enlightening post about how they tied their right shoe, too.  Coincidentally, this image completely deterred me from joining or even checking it out.

When I finally signed up, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t anyone tell me what an incredible resource this is!”  I lost myself for at least an hour, looking at everything from Social Media and California tourism to Fashion and Celebrity Gossip.  It was a refreshing change from my usual Google search in that other people had taken the work out of the search itself – offering up the most relevant articles on the topics I was most interested in.

In a nutshell, people on Twitter know how powerful it is, how difficult it is to gain a quality following, build legitimacy and what a valuable resource it can be in positioning yourself as an expert in your field.  Those who are not on Twitter, have no clue.  Next time you sit down with a prospective client, before launching into the impressive Twitter campaign you’ve planned to amass a huge following, stop and ask the client if they’ve ever been on Twitter.

2.  Having a personal Facebook page, does NOT mean you understand the purpose of a business page.

Just last weekend, someone admitted to me that they know they need to have a Facebook page for their company, but they don’t entirely understand why.  The question always turns back to, “What am I supposed to do with this page after I set it up?”

I’d wager that Facebook is the most recognizable and widely used social network.  Most people are familiar with the personal side of Facebook, where you post pictures, wish your friends Happy Birthday, and occasionally rant about how much you hate bicyclists.  But using Facebook for your business is an entirely different ballgame.

The issue here is twofold.  In some cases, the nature of the business itself does not automatically lend itself to Facebook page purpose.  This is especially apparent with professional industries like CPAs or doctors.  They don’t have sales or events, so what in the world would they use a Facebook page for?  While this makes it very convenient for these professions to quickly dismiss the notion of a social media campaign, it reveals a deeper lack of understanding for Social Media Marketing.

Most businesses limit their vision of Facebook to an image of a billboard where they can publicize their current sales.  They don’t realize that their page should offer an experience to their customers – a setting to hold contests, post interesting factoids, and interact with their fans.  Businesses know they need to have a Facebook page.  It’s up to you to explain how to derive benefit from it.

3.  Most people only go onto LinkedIn to get a job… and that’s it.

I am completely guilty of this!  I joined linked in because I was unemployed and everyone told me I had to.  At the time, I posted my resume and a profile picture and called it a day.  It did come in handy when I’d meet someone who might know of a job opening for me.  I could direct them to my LinkedIn page, rather than kick myself for not carrying 20 resumes in my purse at all times.

But contrary to popular belief, LinkedIn is not just for uploading your resume!  Facebook may still be the place you to post your vacation photos, but LinkedIn has become THE networking site for professionals.  It is a powerful resource to promote events, generate leads, and gain recognition as an industry leader.  But to do so, it requires a level of activity of which most are unaware.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Sales is a contact sport” you understand the secret to LinkedIn.  To benefit from LinkedIn, you have to join Groups, participate in Discussions, and check in regularly – Not just when you’re in between jobs.  It can be a large time commitment and requires consistency – which clients will gladly pass on to you if they can understand the benefit that can be derived.

I can’t really blame anyone for being clueless about Social Media Marketing.  After all, most people go onto Facebook just for fun… not because they’re getting paid to do so.  Social Media Marketing is still on the cusp of becoming the norm in advertising and PR.  We’re at a stage now where organizations and individuals recognize that they need to get into this arena but still struggle with understanding why.

A little bit of education can go a long way!  Your clients are paying you to know more about Social Media than they do.  In fact, just when your clients become familiar with Twitter, it will be your job to introduce them to the next big thing, which they will be inevitably wary of. 

Being a Social Media Marketer is just as much about innovation, creativity, and knowledge as it is about educating.  In fact, I would venture to say now more than ever, the players who understand the value of educating their clients will be enjoy the most longevity in this field.  Being ahead of the curve is one thing.  Bringing your clients along with you is another.  

Osama Bin Laden is dead… reports Twitter

It was surreal.  Our big family dinner was winding down when I received a text message from a friend that read, “White house is reporting osama bin laden is dead.”  Apparently, it had been reported just moments before.  Within minutes, my brother-in-law confirmed the story when his Twitter account alerted him to it.  Everyone whipped out their phones to substantiate the news and the TV was turned on shortly after.

As we sat watching the talking heads, I looked around the room to discover just about every person holding a phone.  (Mine would have been in my hand too if my niece hadn’t been using it to play Doodle Destroy.)  As the newscasters attempted to fill the air time with what little information they had before the President spoke, each person in the room offered their own reports of friends’ Facebook posts or Twitter news feeds.   At one point, someone was even correcting the newscasters who erroneously reported that Bin Laden had been killed a week before.  It was like each of us was working for the Associated Press.

It is shocking to witness over the course of only a decade how drastically our modes of processing information have changed.  I think back to 9/11 and remember being tuned into the television broadcast for hours on end watching the same horrifying images repeat over and over again.  I learned about the details with everyone else watching the same broadcast and it was our primary source of information.  We were limited to knowing only what the major networks knew.

My younger brother was in high school at the time and because cell phones weren’t so “smart” yet, his only information was whatever the school deemed appropriate to tell the students.  When the news about Bin Laden broke, he was waiting to leave for L.A. when he read the breaking news on his cell.   This morning his Facebook status read, “Nothing feels better than being on a plane waiting for takeoff and announcing to the person next to you that Osama bin laden was killed, then watching the news quickly spread throughout the plane.”

The availability of social media and news to our mobile devices not only fuels the speed with which we receive information, share our thoughts and debate our perspectives, but  makes us hungry for information that is renewed and updated on a continuous basis.

After I finally wrestled my phone away from my 6 year old niece, I updated my Facebook status with a simple thank you to everyone who had supported our troops all along the way.   Anyone who knows me would understand that it was a tribute to my husband, who spent our first year of marriage in Iraq, and each person who supported him and his battle buddies while he was away.  I still remember signing up for MySpace before he left so I could read the blog he occasionally posted to.  At the time, I remember how silly it felt to ask him to be my friend online.  Six years later, we are clearly labeled as husband and wife on Facebook while MySpace balances on the brink of extinction.

I cannot imagine what it was like to be a military wife during previous wars – waiting months at a time to hear from your spouse.  Even when a letter arrived they must have wondered in the back of their minds whether they were still safe – knowing full well that the letter had been sealed weeks or possibly months prior.

I was lucky.  My husband usually called me once a week from a Pay As You Go Phone.  Even when he would relay stories about a particularly nerve racking foot patrol or worse, being trapped in a Humvee when a mortar detonated nearby, I was thankful.  I could tell myself, “Yes, he was blown up today… Yes, he cracked a couple ribs and can’t hear so well at the moment… but the fact that he’s telling me this on the phone means he’s safe right now.  If I saw something terrifying on the news, I could even text him and receive a response back by the end of the day assuring me of his safety.

Mobility is now crucial to communication in that it fuels the speed with which we process what’s happening around us.  With that comes impatience for information in its traditional mediums.  The television and radio alone do not satisfy us.   No longer will we patiently wait for a newscaster to relay a story nor will we tolerate misinformation while we hold a mobile fact checker in our hands.

It shapes how we interpret the events unfolding around us.  It is in notable moments like September 11th or Osama Bin Laden’s death that create benchmarks in our minds.  While grim, they offer a telling comparison of how changed our lives have become due not only to social media but its immediate accessibility.  When the news is momentous enough it spreads like wildfire on social networks and before you know it there are crowds of people gathering in Times Square or in front of the White House.

We don’t just watch the news anymore.  We participate.  We determine what’s newsworthy.   Last night, it became clear that our first resource was our cell phones and that the television was secondary.   Social Media is clearly in the driver’s seat.