Yelp Reviews…For the Subway?

I love review sites. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon, you name it I’ve used it to find anything from a good restaurant to a good dry cleaner in my area. I like to be able to get a feel for the business before I decide to become a customer there. I also like to let other people know if they should refrain from becoming a customer at a business I have had a horrible experience with (by the looks of it, we all do). That being said, most businesses that are reviewed on customer rating sites have a range of reviews from great to terrible, but most reviews trend towards these two extremes. In a recent Mashable article, a study of customer reviews of the world’s subway systems shows another side of the ratings story: humor. 

When I recently traveled to New York, I used TripAdvisor reviews to decide which hotel to stay in and I used Yelp and Urban Spoon to find restaurants to try. It never occurred to me to use Yelp to check out the MTA because it is, after all, the only subway option in town. While there are many serious reviewers of the subway system who call for changes in New York City, I did some digging to find some particularly useful ones. And by useful, I mean they are a funny way to pass the time on your next subway commute. 

Yelp user L. William, a NYC native, says “I can’t take a nap without being woken up by flipping break dancers, Mariachi performers, or those men with long dreadlocks who play the African drums. If I wanted entertainment, I’d go to the theater.” At least the D train is cheaper. 

Reviewer Danika C. says “Yes, the bus comes when it wants. Have a schedule? Good for you, but it’s still not going to be on time. But when I think of the Big Apple, MTA is the Core.” I see what you did there, Danika C. Clever. 

Monica T. wants to help us tourists out by suggesting specific subway stations to use. In reference to a stop at West 4th street, “I’d advise a tourist who really wants to know what an average subway station looks like to go to this one.” I’ll be sure to stand in awe of this particularly average subway station next time I’m in the city for a visit thanks to you Monica. 

And the most useful and humorous review award goes to Tom T. who astutely observes, “It’s a good place to catch a train. It is a train station.” 

Online customer reviews can make or break a business. Luckily for the public transportation systems of the world, these funny reviews are just another way to help a morning commute pass by in a flash. 


YouTube’s Street View of the Ukrainian Conflict

When I want a news update, I go to Twitter. On Twitter I can find bite-sized breaking news from CNN, the BBC, and other news accounts that I follow. These Tweets lead me to nicely packaged articles and videos about the topic at hand. If I happen to know somebody who is involved in the event that is unfolding, Atlanta’s recent Snowpocalypse for example, I can check my Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine feeds for on-the-ground photo and video updates from the people in my network. These three social outlets helped me see what was really happening on the ground through my friend’s eyes, though they are limited to a 6 second video or a single image that the platforms dictate. Where can I find a street view of events that occur outside my network?

With the recent political turmoil in the Ukraine, citizens and news organizations alike have turned their Social Media focus to YouTube to broadcast their messages. The magnitude of the political conflict is too vast to be expressed in a 140 character Tweet, a 6 second Vine video, or a single Instagram image, so YouTube’s long-format video medium has proven to be instrumental in passing unedited information around the world.

What does that mean to those of us that are on the outside of the conflict trying to get a bigger picture of what is going on? The excess of 90,000 YouTube videos uploaded since February 1st give us access to live streams, video clips, and news updates from many perspectives that take us inside the conflict and give us a broader understanding of the turmoil and chaos in the region. We can see this information through the lens of a local news station, a foreign news correspondent, or a citizen that decides to broadcast his or her personal experiences. Dispersing real time videos of the conflict from multiple perspectives gives those of us following remotely an unfiltered look into the true nature of the political crisis and it’s impact on everyday Ukrainian citizens.

On Social Media, it is paramount that the message fits the medium that you use to broadcast it. In the Ukraine’s case, YouTube’s long-format videos are better suited to our comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand than a 6 second Vine clip.

Travel Savvy

While I was studying abroad at Oxford University over the summer, I planned a weekend trip to London with some other students. It was our first weekend trip, so we did what any traveling college student on a budget would do on their first week abroad… we looked for the cheapest hostel available to ensure that we had enough money to spend on other trips for the rest of the summer. That first week, we committed the biggest mistake that many travelers make: we didn’t read enough reviews.

Now, thanks to various websites (and that less than positive hostel experience), it is easier than ever to make a study of customer reviews a priority for every vacation planning process. Whether you are checking out a condo to rent at the beach, a boutique hotel in a foreign country, or a rental on AirBnB, there are review sites for all of your accommodation needs. For Millennials like me, is the place to go. There are numerous reviews of smaller, more budget friendly boutique hotels that appeal to my generation of travelers who aren’t afraid to try a quirky B&Bs or an artsy independent hotel.

Getaroom is capitalizing on the most common behavior of Gen Y individuals, which is sharing information and opinions online. Peer reviews and the opinions of friends and family influence many day-to-day purchases, and they are becoming greater influences on how we choose where to stay and what we do on vacation. The best part: it’s never been easier to share or discover reviews thanks to review sites and Social Media.

Customer reviews are great resources for guests who are looking for potential places to stay, but they can present a challenge to hotel management. When I am planning a trip, I look for reviews that have been acknowledged by the hotel staff. I see this as a sign of hotel management’s dedication to improving guest experiences and it makes my confidence in the hotel increase. Even if a hotel has a negative review, a response from management shows that they value the opinions of their guests and will try to accommodate them.

Millennials are a generation of Social Media loving, content creating, review reading travelers who love to have the inside scoop, so it will be important for hotels, restaurants, and “local” specialty destinations to see customer review sites as another tool to reach their audiences.

Social Media: The New Way to Pay

As I was sitting in class trying to pay attention (read: scrolling through my Twitter feed), something unusual caught my eye: Marc Jacobs Pop Up Shop Takes Tweets, Instagrams for Payment. Intrigued, I clicked the link to learn more about this unusual exchange of value. 

We talk a lot in class about social media engagement with brands, but it never occurred to me that companies would have a way to rank individual users based on engagement with the brand across platforms. This concept is called Social Currency, and according to Brian Solis, it ranks the value of a person’s social brand engagement like a credit score ranks a person’s creditworthiness. This way, brands can tell who is more important during social media interactions. 

Marc Jacobs is taking the concept of Social Currency one step further in the limited time Daisy Marc Jacobs Tweet Shop. In this Soho pop-up shop, customers exchange currency for products, just not in the way you would think. Instead of paying for your favorite perfume with dollars and cents, you can pay in “social currency.” This means that all you have to do to take home that gorgeous new Marc Jacobs necklace, delicious fragrance, or -for the especially social savvy among us- that lovely purse is Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, or otherwise socially engage the company while you shop. 

What a way to reward customers for continued loyalty and engagement! I can’t even imagine the line to get into the store at this point, seeing as Marc Jacobs has a very large and very involved social media following.

To me, this three day pop-up shop event shows that Marc Jacobs appreciates customers for more than the money they spend on products. The brand is showing customers that the time and effort they put into engaging with the brand online is more valuable than the $75 it takes to purchase Daisy perfume. I have no doubt that this event will endear the brand even more in the hearts of the loyal and socially engaged followers. I applaud Marc Jacobs for redefining the typical dollars and cents transaction to one of comparable value: social engagement with a vast network that Marc Jacobs didn’t have to seek out and pay to engage with. I am interested to see if any other brands catch on and try something like this in the future. Until then, bravo Marc Jacobs!

Social Media Wins Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse

It all started with a few flurries around noon on January 28th, 2014. By 5:00, most of the city of Atlanta was stuck in their cars/schools/office buildings due to the dangerously icy conditions on the road. With more than 900 reported car accidents and thousands of cars abandoned on the road throughout the day and night, Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse was reminiscent of the opening scenes of the popular zombie apocalypse show The Walking Dead.

Despite the negative media attention given to the city’s lack of emergency preparedness, the citizens of Atlanta banded together to aid their fellow man in a spectacular showcase of Southern Hospitality. The assistance that the citizens of Atlanta gave and received throughout the day would not have been possible without social media.

First came the Facebook group, SnowedOutAtlanta. This group allowed Atlantans to post their addresses and the locations of businesses that were opening to accommodate  the droves stranded motorists who were forced to abandon their cars to find shelter for the night. The stranded individuals could check Facebook for nearby homes to ride out the storm in. People with snow-going vehicles also posted their locations and used the group to find stranded people to help in their areas.

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This is just one of the many helpful posts to the Snowed Out Atlanta Facebook Group

This group provided assistance to many of the motorists, but for those who weren’t near open locations, more hometown heroes trekked miles in the snow to hand out snacks, water bottles and hot chocolate to the gridlocked drivers stuck in the snow. These people posted their routes to Facebook to let motorists know that help was on the way. This BuzzFeed article shows just a few examples of these small time heroes use of Social Media to save the day.

The way that social media united a city of roughly 6 million people during a state of emergency shows the immense power that the connected web has given to individuals. Without the mass movement from Atlanta’s very own citizens, this Snowpocalypse could have been much worse. As much criticism as social media receives for distancing human relationships, the events of January 28th prove that social media networks still have a human touch. Social media provided the vehicle for ordinary people to come together to make an extraordinary impact on the city they call home.

Crowdsourcing Helps Brands Communicate

With the immense popularity of photo sharing apps like Instagram and SnapChat, it’s no surprise that big brands have followed consumers to these platforms. Some brands advertise on Instagram like it was any other channel while some brands use Instagram to shake things up a bit. What is the distinguishing factor between these two breeds of brands? Authenticity.

A few months ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when a picture of Big Ben caught my eye. At first, I thought that my friend, who was studying at Oxford University, had posted it after her weekend trip to London. As I was about to leave a typical “looks like you’re having the time of your life” (read: I want to be you, I wish I was in London right now) comment, I discovered that the photo wasn’t posted from her account. It was an advertisement for Burberry. Here is a brief version of my thought process after discovering this ad… 

  • How did that get there? I don’t follow brand pages on Instagram.
  • Get off my feed.
  • At least it’s Burberry and not something tacky like Walmart.
  • Get off my feed. This is my Instagram feed, not yours.

Thankfully, some retailers are challenging the norm. Instead of forcing content down our throats (ahem, Burberry), brands are recognizing that we love social media because it gives us (the users) a voice. Brands are also recognizing that we are far more likely to listen to our peers than to big brand voices that are advertising to us. We don’t like being sold. We do our research, and a lot of that research comes from friends and people in our networks because we like genuine, authentic conversation.

Enter Coach, one of the many big brands with a social media presence. Coach is rewriting the playbook for online retail by using social media in new and engaging ways. According to this Businessweek article, Coach has begun to crowdsource photographs of shoes and other merchandise from consumers on Instagram. That’s right, instead of looking at Coach shoes on the feet of some industry standard, ridiculously Photoshoped model, you can look at Coach shoes on the feet of your every day consumer (through a strategically chosen Instagram filter, of course). You can even Instagram your own shoes and use the hashtag #CoachFromAbove for the chance to be featured on their site.

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Their website highlights consumer created content with links to buy your own pair of trendy, crowd approved shoes.

Lancome is another great example of a brand that is using new, innovative ways to reach out to consumers without run of the mill advertising content. Much like Dove, Lancome is urging women to post Selfies to showcase their natural beauty. It does fit into the promotion strategy for one of their new products quite nicely, but Lancome isnt buying up space on my Instagram feed to sell it to me. Instead, Lancome is acknowledging me, asking me to engage (using #bareselfie) and become part of the conversation. Lancome gets to know me and I get to know Lancome. They are communicating with me in a more personal and authentic way and showing me how personalized their products can be.

I’m glad brands are starting to get it. We join social networks to have a voice, and Coach, Lancome, and others are changing the game by giving us one. This isn’t just an email complaint system or a hotline to call with comments. This is content that we generate on our own and we can immediately see it integrated into the brand’s identity. It gives the brand a more relatable and authentic personality. In this way, brands can seamlessly integrate themselves into the fabric of social networks and be invited into conversations between consumers. It is not an intrusion. It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in the way that traditional advertisements do. It is welcome and invited by social network users, and I hope we see more of it from other brands.


The Power of the Selfie to Redefine Beauty

The Sundance Film Festival is well under way in Park City Utah. Sundance, in partnership with Wayin, have integrated social media into the festival like never before, but one short film by Dove is taking the power of social media to the next level.

I was familiar with Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign in 2013 that offered women the chance to describe themselves to a portrait artist who had never seen their face. Then, they were asked to describe another woman who was in the waiting area with them. The portraits were displayed side by side. The portraits in which another woman described the subject were by far everyone’s favorites because they highlighted the noticeably beautiful aspects of the women, whereas their own descriptions of themselves tended to focus on the negative perceptions they have about certain features.  This campaign drew a lot of positive attention to Dove for championing the idea that we are our own worst critics and that beauty products are not what makes real beauty.

Today at the Sundance Film Festival, Dove debuted a short film about the power of the Selfie. The film follows a class of high school girls as they embark on mission impossible… teaching their mothers how to take selfies on their smartphones and upload them. The girls and their mothers then submitted the selfies to an art gallery where they were all displayed. Visitors to the gallery were given sticky notes to write messages to leave on the selfies, much like leaving a comment on an Instagram or Facebook photo. What surprised these women was that the things they disliked most about their appearance in photographs were often the most positively received parts of their selfie. The film goes on to encourage women to harness the power of the selfie to show her true self to the world with pride. Watch the short film on Mashable

The video has already sparked social conversation from the celebrities at the film festival, and now, everyone can join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook or Dove’s Website by answering what beauty means to you using #beautyis. You can even submit your very own selfie!

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Here’s a screenshot that shows you how to post on Dove’s website.

Personally, I’m excited to see the power of social media being used to redefine beauty in a positive way, especially at an event like Sundance where many in the industry feel pressured to fit into the societal mold of beauty that film, television, and magazines impose upon us. I have tremendous respect for Dove, who continues to champion “Real Beauty” in new and engaging ways. I’ll leave you with what my idea of #beautyis: confidence and a big smile!

What’s your idea of beauty?