The first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney illustrated how social media has become a powerful platform for the instantaneous dissemination of information.
During the debate, numerous viewers took to Twitter to give their reaction, in 140 characters or less, to points made by each candidate.
It was mass analysis on the fly.
When it was all over, the overwhelming consensus was that Romney bested the president.
However, when it comes to social media, you are never quite sure what is going to trend out in meme form. A meme (rhymes with team) is when an idea goes viral on the Internet in numerous forms. It usually involves a visual image or comment that then is added to or altered by users in a whimsical manner.
In this case, Romney’s comment about cutting federal funding for PBS turned into an Internet campaign to save Big Bird’s job.
Romney mentioned that he liked the popular character on “Sesame Street,” but he wasn’t going to borrow money from China to pay for the program.
Overall, more than 11 million tweets were sent out on the debate. According to Twitter, after Romney’s comment, users were posting tweets mentioning Big Bird at a rate of 17,000 per minute. A fake account, @FiredBigBird, has more than 10,000 followers.
I guess the lesson here for politicians is, don’t use a pop-culture reference to back a negative position. You run the risk of your message being lost in the furor from an unintended audience.
I’m currently heading an industry task force within the Sandusky Newspaper Group dealing with the best way for us to use social media in our jobs so that it helps, not hurts, our overall mission. This includes developing a sustainable business model.
There has been some disagreement in discussions. One point of contention has been how the conversational approach of social media may conflict with established journalism. What may trend in social media is not always what we think is the important news of the day.
For instance, this week, the story that got the most “likes” on our Facebook page was the one about a Davis County sheriff’s deputy using lethal force — on a spider.
The story revolved around the humorous way the officer wrote his incident report.
Our challenge with social media is to find balance between what people want to know and what people need to know, and the best way to present both.
• WRONG STANDARD: Last Sunday, the Standard-Examiner’s print edition had four special sections that we teased on Page 1. There was one advancing the LDS General Conference, another on our home show expo this weekend, one on surviving breast cancer and one referring to a Halloween coloring book inside.
Oops. The coloring book was not in our paper. It ran in the Uintah Basin Standard, a weekly newspaper in eastern Utah we print at our facility.
In a Murphy’s law moment that is too complex to explain here, we ended up promoting the Halloween special section for the Unitah Standard rather than the Spooktacular section that was inserted in our paper.
Yes, the similar names played a computer file role in the mix-up.
Unfortunately, our section was a guide to events and not a coloring book, so we got some complaints from readers when they couldn’t find the coloring book for their children to use.
The good news is, based on the reaction, we might consider publishing a coloring book next year.
Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or email@example.com.