Travel bloggers fall to death while taking selfie

Two young Indian travel bloggers fell off a cliff at Yosemite National Park, California earlier this week.

It is reported that the Indian travel blogging couple Vishnu Viswanath and Meenakshi Moorthy were taking selfie at Taft Point and a slip took them 800 feet down.

The Instagram blog of theirs shows how much they loved traveling and sharing their photographs on their blog. As in the case of most Instagrammers, they seemed to be in a great hurry to turn top Instagram bloggers.

It so happened that Meenakshi, in hair dyed deep red, was captured just before their fall, on the selfie being taken by another Instagram blogger duo [dreaslaugh].

selfie by bloggers
Meenakshi seen in the background, at Taft Point.

Ironical that on one of her Instagram posts a few months back, Meenakshi had written this:
Sooo today on #socialmediabadasstribe we are talking about limits of #doitforthegram.😶Yeah sure it can be limitless but guys, we reaaaallly need to have boundaries(this is handy as life lessons too but we will revisit that later😉)
A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs ⛰and skyscrapers🌆, but did you know that wind gusts can be FATAL??? ☠️ Is our life just worth one photo?

Let the craft of writing not die... and how blogging can help

If I tell you that people are writing less than they used to write a generation back, you would perhaps not agree. You might say that even if writing on paper seems to have gone down, writing on the web and social media has more than compensated it.

The total weight of written words has definitely gone up due to rise in population, much higher level of economic activity and much much higher content generation on the social media. People are sharing content and commenting on social media all the time and generating billions of words a day, but if we exclude short and transitional content on social networks and chat apps, perhaps not much of substance is really being written.

Add to that the trend of sharing feelings and events through emojis, photos and videos. Use of photographs on the web picked up with the advent of digital cameras, then cameras being available on mobile phones, then mobile cameras became high-tech. After 3G came on smart phones, enough bandwidth became available for uploading and downloading images and videos. Simultaneously, social platforms made it easy to share videos. 

The trend towards videos is only rising and pundits predict that by 2022, overe 80 percent of web traffic will be in the form of videos. 

Add to that the coming of virtual assistants and improvements in speech recognition technology. These developments are making sure that talking to a machine would replace most of the writing that we do. That means, in a few years from now you will not need to write/ type out things unless you force yourself to do so.

blogging aids learning and writing

Having videos and photos to express yourself is fine, more so as it is less burdensome and more efficient than expressing in written words. But there is this very dark side of the coin: people - especially the young ones - are seen developing a dislike for writing. If you find this statement of no significance or too sweeping, I request you to read on for another one minute. (Again, you might not like to read further... because it also is in text and not as an image or a video!)

It is documented after studies that children's capacity to write and do maths has been decreasing over the years, and the phenomenon is global. Many teachers have written on their blogs and have shared in other places that kids do not like to write essays or do creative writing. Since writing skills beyond those needed for the subjects of the curriculum do not pay in terms of better marks in higher classes or in employment, parents also do not see any value in teaching writing skills to children when they are in lower classes.

Juxtapose that with how languages all over the world are growing: many non-English people have stopped communicating in their mother tongues and many languages that do not have value in finding employment or influencing marketing decisions are being shunned by the new generation. So, the market is driving the adoption of English at the cost of native languages.

Come back to writing. Since the market and socio-technical forces are going against expressing oneself in the written word, the will to write will diminish by the day and would find few takers for native languages. There would be very little inducement to write, and only a bunch of people would continue to express themselves in writing. If the trend continues, the toddler of today - when she becomes a teen and has all the gadgetry and virtual assistants in her command - would sure abhor the idea of writing or even  reading.

Does blogging improve writing skills and overall learning?

Blogging can be a very useful tool in the hands of young and old alike for expressing themselves in different ways including by writing down their feelings, logic, ideas.

Children, when induced to blogging at an early age, have been found to enjoy writing. Empirical studies have shown that students' ability to express themselves improves significantly - and that applies to small kids as well as university goers - when they start blogging. Many examples of how children's focus, confidence, team-spirit and creativity have improved after they adopted blogging can be seen on educational blogs (edublogs) and academic discussions on the web on blogging and education.

Children who enjoy blogging are also more likely to appreciate others' creativity and develop a natural appreciation of arts and literature, which lead to more humanized humans and more evolved civilizations.

Adults' writing abilities see improvement when they start blogging: not for money but for expressing themselves. Besides improving their writing skills, blogging gives them confidence as a writer. I have seen a number of bloggers who have published books after blogging on the subject for a while, many are able to write on the mainstream press based on their blogging experience. (Well, let me share that the three books that I have published recently are in a way the outcome of my experience as a blogger.)  

I have shared a number of articles in this blog on how children benefit from blogging, how a grandpa or grandma found purpose in life after they started a blog, how blogging have given a new life to people diagnosed with serious ailments and so on.

A successful mom blogger's practical advice to others

Mom blogging is one of the most popular blogging niches among women bloggers. This becomes the best place to share their motherly experiences and tips they themselves have learnt during the motherhood journey.

But there is a dark side to it. Katie Paulson could not be wrong because she has learnt her lesson after suffering due to her indiscretions.

Before I share what Katie has shared in her blog recently about blogging by mothers, let me tell that she maintains a blog that is well-read and she is happy about blogging - after she changed course. She is a truly successful blogger without worries about web safety of her blog, herself and her son.

2 blogging mistakes a mom blogger usually makes

Katie shared too much about her growing kid, so much that complete strangers meeting them in public places would know the child by his name! Only when the kid was six did the mother realized that she was depriving herself and her son of privacy that was very much essential for them.

The child had multiple ailments and she had all the problems that come with such a situation, and she would compose her posts on each of them and got kick out of people's validation.

She very candidly shares that she became so much of herself - thinking that what she shared was worth getting approbation all the time - that it ruined her social life.

As happens with all bloggers who expose themselves on the social media, she would get all types of responses.  Being woman attracted even nasty comments. 

blog and blogger safety

Another problem with mom blogs is false expertise. This insight from Katie applies to many mom bloggers: they are not experts but after having become a mom, give all sorts of advise to curious would-be moms and new moms. I reckon that the visitors on such blogs do not stay with it when they themselves have experience of rearing a child. 

You can visit the post from Katie here: 4 WaysMommy Blogging Disrupted and Harmed My Life

It is a good reminder for mommy bloggers that while this blogging niche is quite rewarding in many ways (sharing experiences and helping others; mutually benefiting; making money), the blogger must be discreet in what and how much she shares. In addition, she must become an expert in at least a small area of child bearing and rearing before giving advise.

A fashion blogger who now has a clothing line!

This is the story of a lady who nine years back was in college yet and studying psychology, and had started blogging to impress her date. She is a formidable name in fashion blogging today.

Instead of focusing on psychology, Arielle Charnas would spend time on blogging. Her parents thought something had gone wrong with her, but she seemed to have found her muse. A network was building around her but brands did not take notice of her: that were her initial blogging years.

Well, blogging did not grow in a straight line. She was spotted by a clothing company that offered her a job of styling clothes and acting as their model too. Then she got a contract with TreSemme.

The blog's progress was good, she was getting more attention and more jobs, and fashion blogging had become her career. But it was plateauing... and then came Instagram. For the type of niche she is in (i.e. fashion), nothing could have been better. Arielle's earning from blogging is now steady. She is a big Instagram influencer, with over 131 thousand followers.

fashion blogging
Arielle's blog, Something Navy, is now the fulcrum of her online business that has become multi-faceted.  She is a mother now, and has to apportion time to her home and office. But she is a businesswoman as much as a blogger. She has an office, half-a-dozen staff including those for social media and photography. She has recently started a clothing line with the same name: Something Navy.

Bloggers as influencers: excerpts from The Manual of Blogging

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, Blogs as Influencers' of 'The Manual of Blogging'. 

... the importance of blogs as the prime social media entities has gone down but they have become increasingly more mature in content and design. In addition, the advances in web technologies have made blogs functionally more advanced for the users. It is implied that these developments have made blogs more valuable in the eyes of marketers and common visitors.

On the other hand, there are skeptics who feel that individual blogs hardly have the power to influence people’s decisions...

On the web, especially social media, traffic is often taken as a measure of one’s influence, but visitors do not necessarily visit a website/ social networking platform/ blog because they are influenced, nor do all visitors take a decision under the influence of the site they visit. In fact, most of the time the visit is likely to be inconsequential as far as influence on the visitor is concerned. Blogs and other websites with erotic photographs and social accounts on adult jokes are quite popular. There is nothing fake or reciprocal about their following, but they would hardly be taken seriously when it comes to taking life decisions or decisions on financial matters. There would also not be a useful association between the advertisements served on such sites/ blogs and the buying needs of visitors. On the other hand, when the message is powerful and the blog/ blogger has the required credibility, they have the potential to convince and encourage people to think and act in a certain way.

Learners in various fields regularly visit established blogs in their niche. Experts’ blogs on technology, coding, investment and stock markets, recipes, motherhood, beauty, health and travel do receive quite a number of such visitors. Many savvy bloggers who are seen as an authority on their subject get many queries and take time to respond to them. Needless to say, a recommendation by such bloggers would be highly valued by their regular visitors.

 Blogs as Marketing Influencers 

There are thousands of blogs on which bloggers write about the quality of products and services. They come in various forms such as blogs that review specific books, movies, hotels, cafes, houses, software, gadgets, garments and so on; blogs that promote products and services of selected brands; and blogs that comment on the quality aspects of products and services in general. It has been found in some consumer surveys that blogs, as a group, influence purchase behavior of people more than social networking platforms and commercial review sites...

Some research is available in which blogs with good content in paying niches such as travel and fashion are found to have a definite influence on buying decisions of visitors and followers. 

There are a number of big affiliate networks globally and locally, which arrange advertisements on blogs/ websites on behalf of their corporate clients. It is well-known that a very large number of bloggers make regular income through these affiliate advertisements, showing that such blogs are able to influence buying decisions.

Being interactive and also with unlimited scope for explaining  things in detail, blogs score over print media, television channels and posters/ hoardings in influencing opinion...

Social Media Influencers 

... The word ‘social media influencer’ has gained popularity in recent years. This term is used for describing people with large following on social media. Their claim is that since they have a huge herd following them, their word matters a lot when it comes to people buying a product or service... Mere traffic (or follower count) is not a good measure of influence.

Bloggers as Influencers in Making Political Decisions

... The jury is out on whether messages on blogs and social networking and instant messaging sites can influence people enough to change their political views and to vote for a particular party/ leader. In most cases, the noise on the social media seems to be based on people’s pre-conceived opinions.

Does Blogging Influence Employment Decisions? 

... Professional networking giant LinkedIn promotes blogging on its platform and many employers are known to look at these blogs in deciding a person’s suitability for a particular job/ assignment. A number of employing agencies have gone on record stating that they carefully scan the web entities of prospective employees, and blogs are an important input to assess a person’s personal traits and professional competence...

blogging as influencer- Branson blog

Governments on social media: as deficient as ever!

The latest report by Hootsuite on use of social media by governments gives me a feeling of déjà vu [= what I've seen  before]

Five years back I had published an article in the Indian Journal of Public Administration, titled 'Social Media: Are Governments Using Its Potential For Citizen Engagement And Socio-economic Development?'. Over years, I have been watching governments of different countries and at different levels, and have mostly been finding my initial observations getting validated again and again.

Many things have changed in the technological scene in the last five years, e.g. mobile phone has  become the preferred device to access the web, leave alone the social; video has become much more important; internet has penetrated the globe much more; social media is being used for spreading hatred and fake news and crimes; new social media platforms have arisen and all including the old ones have come up with new features. Yet, most governments have changed little, and when some of them have changed, they rest on their laurels and convince themselves that this is the maximum they could achieve!

Social media and Governments: are they poles apart in the way they work?

Hootsuite study on governments' use of social media in 2018  tells in detail about the failings of governments when it comes to engaging with citizens. I have summarized here the salient observations of the report. Forgive me some tinkering here and there just to align it with the flow of arguments here.
  • Governments have failed to use social media for improving efficiencies and service delivery. The traditional call centers in the US, for example, cost the exchequer billions and yet government offices do not use social media effectively to redress grievances.
  • Much of public budget on outreach goes to traditional media: traditional PR, issue of releases, press trips, traditional advertising. This happens in the US even when 42% Americans say that Facebook is their first source of news while just 20% depend on the traditional media for news.
  • Quantity is taken as the proof of social change. A million messages bombarded through SMSs and chat messages are taken as proof of reaching the masses and engaging with them. 
  • Governments do not care to leverage the demographic targeting that is possible through social media. If they do, that is for political/ propaganda reasons, not for taking services to citizens.
  • Not many governments are meaningfully engaging with citizens to understand their problems and seek suggestions. 85% of time, government agencies treat social media platforms as 'notice boards'. Governments and their agencies come at no. 3 from the bottom when it comes to social media engagement!
  • Most people are always connected and regularly get useful messages and offers from savvy companies. Governments do not bother; at best, they make some announcements. Thus, they hardly come up to the expectations of citizens who are used to better communication from companies.
  • People's trust in governments has been declining; it is found that people trust their peers much more than governments. The trust goes down further when government communication does not look authentic.
  • Governments lack transparency in their communication. That also leads to lack of trust.
  • Government media functionaries are unsure of their communication. Their response mostly is like recorded messages. Informal communication - which moves social media - is discouraged in governments. 
  • Government are not doing enough to adapt to the fast changes that technology brings. If a social media initiative is taken, that remains there even though the technology has changed by leaps and has become much more efficient.
  • Governments do not have the culture of promoting good Samaritans among the public and employees, and using social media to amplify the goodness.
social media and governments
A government cannot expect people to blindly trust it
and be swayed by its tunes on social media.

When governments try to make the best use of social media, sky is the limit! 

We hear stories of effective use of social media by a city police office, a local government, a health or agriculture department, a social security office and so on. These are often due to the zeal of one or a few committed persons, and the zeal fizzles out after the initial high or when the leading person/ group takes some other assignment.

We also sometimes hear how social media saved many lives during a natural calamity. This usually happens spontaneously because citizens have the tools of mobile phone and social media. Governments chip in with some information, but not as the torch-bearers of a well thought-after and rehearsed social media strategy. The report gives an interesting comparison: The Federal Emergency Management Agency of the USA had, before hurricane season in 2017, just 634000 Twitter followers while Kim Kardashian had 54.8 million!

I had earlier argued why top brass of companies must blog. This report also underlines the importance of social engagement from the people who run a company. This applies to the government even more than a company for more reasons than one: some services are available only from government agencies, governments are elected entities, government agencies use public money and are accountable to every citizen, government actions have far-reaching consequences, many government actions have legal weight behind them. Yet, not many at the top of governments engage with citizens; most of those who are active on social media post their engagements, speeches etc - well, that is better than no communication, but is that the best use of social media for public good?

It is often said in defense of governments not being proactive on social media, that all governmental actions are open to public scrutiny, at least in functioning democracies, and this makes government functionaries prone to one-sided criticism, ridicule and legal complications even at the slightest mistake or even for taking a stand. A recent American judgement forcing a government official to unblock her Facebook page to critical visitors is a case in point. The information law (e.g. Freedom of Information Acts of Australia, UK and USA; Right to Information Act of India) can be used to ask uncomfortable questions to a public functionary who might be active on social media for public good. But are these not part of the game even in traditional media and other public discourse? These cannot be the excuse for not harnessing the full potential of social media for taking the government to the people. 

A proactive government is expected to remove impediments in the way of better use of social media, for example by making its conversations transparent, training functionaries to respond correctly, and being large-hearted enough to respect genuine feedback.

The low quantity and - more important - quality of social media engagement by governments has one big lesson: there is a big potential untapped. Governments and their agencies that have lagged behind in adopting social media can jump to a good level with very little effort. Those who have social media entities but have been using them for one-way communication and have been dealing with public criticism high-handedly have a chance to humanize their  communication. Those with successes worth sharing need to keep innovating and making the engagement more effective and result-oriented. 

There are countless ways social media can be used for checking corruption, efficient service delivery, spreading social messages, cautioning citizens against social evils and fake news, giving information on welfare schemes, real-time communication during calamities, and so on.

That takes me to one earlier article on the subject: the main reasons for poor social media effectiveness of government efforts is lack of intent rather than  lack of technical capabilities or imagination. The Hootsuite report is a testimony to that: governments remain what they are: not willing enough to change enough.

If you are a civil servant dealing with social media for governments, do read the report in full as it contains many practical ideas.