Finding right social media fit

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – choices for online interaction abound; 2 experts share their insights

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

The word salad of new social media sites that come and go is enough to make anyone crave the familiarity of Facebook, the iceberg lettuce of the Internet world.

But along with your bed of lettuce, it's nice to have a few more interesting vegetables.

Local hashtags

• #ClarkWa (Clark County)

• #VanWa (Vancouver)

• #PDXtst (weather)

• #PDXtraffic (traffic)

Folks to follow from this story:

www.facebook.com/WestfieldVancouver

http://www.facebook.com/CRESA.911

www.facebook.com/HighFiveMedia.us

http://instagram.com/nolandhoshino

http://instagram.com/cherylble

http://www.youtube.com/user/hauntedsunshinegirl

To find more local people to follow on social media, visit columbian.com

The trick is how to pick what's right for you without overindulging on the mishmash of Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, Foursquare, Pinterest, Google Plus, Twitter, Vine and a host of other sites that are out there.

So how do you do that? Look at the audience for each site, said Noland Hoshino, a Vancouver social media expert and partner at http://HighFiveMedia.us.

"There's so much out there — and each has a sort of assigned community or a niche," Hoshino said. "Something like Snapchat, I didn't want to bother getting an account, it's just too much. And that site is for the kids, anyway."

Snapchat is a picture and text messaging service that's popular with teenagers because it deletes messages after a set period of time. The company had a setback Dec. 31 when a security breach exposed information from about 4.6 million users of the service, although it hasn't significantly deterred teens from continuing to use it.

"Snapchat's interesting," said Cheryl Bledsoe, a social media expert and emergency manager at Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency. "It's recently fallen into some concerns. The teens really like text services. It's really less trackable by the adults."

And even though kids can set the messages to expire in a few seconds or a day, that doesn't necessarily mean a good hacker couldn't get into them, she added.

Tumblr is another picture-centric service that is mainly used by the under-35 set. People on the service post an image, and others can comment and share the image, creating an ongoing conversation. It's a popular service for fans of some TV shows, films, celebrities and other entertainers.

"It's very personality driven, with a niche community around celebrities and other personalities," Hoshino said.

Facebook, of course, is the big daddy of all the services. It's used to log in to many other sites on the Internet and is pretty much essential for families that want to stay in touch, businesses that want to tout their wares and other groups that just want to get information out.

To learn more

• If you want to understand more about social networking platforms and how to use them, Cheryl Bledsoe suggests checking out the series of tutorial videos on Common Craft.

• If you want to learn more about Twitter, Noland Hoshino suggests checking out the site Mom This is How Twitter Works, created by younger folks trying to explain it to their parents.

"When it comes to social media, Facebook is No. 1. Second would probably be YouTube, the third would be Twitter and the fourth would be Instagram," Hoshino said.

YouTube tends to be more driven by videos and themed video channels, such as the Vancouver-based The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Network. But the service is more of a place to find things to watch. Social interaction is generally limited to posting comments below videos.

In contrast, groups on Facebook tend to have the most social interaction. And oddly enough one of the most popular places for that is on community business pages, not on government-sponsored sites.

"I follow a lot of businesses, and CRESA does as well because we're always looking for places to do public outreach," Bledsoe said. "People will share a lot of feedback, much more willingly, on business pages, religious sites, family pages and friends' sites over governmental sources."

During earthquakes, for instance, quite a bit of community comments come in on https://www.facebook.com/WestfieldVancouver — Westfield Vancouver mall's Facebook page, she said.

"Facebook huddling, where people group and comment on community pages, is fairly common after events," Bledsoe said.

Much of the population in Vancouver and Clark County consists of "late adopters" -- people who get into technology after it's been widely accepted in other markets, Hoshino said. That means Facebook is by far the most popular here.

"We're a small town," Hoshino said. "You'd think because we live close to Portland, with its startup technology, we'd be ahead. But we're a small town, small demographic area."

Of course, nothing drives the cool kids away faster than widespread acceptance and broad interaction with family.

And so, more of the teen and "early adopter" set who like newer technology are moving toward Twitter, Instagram and other sites.

"The demographic on Facebook is getting significantly older," Bledsoe said. "The grandparent generation is using it to reach out to the grandkids, although actually the baby boomers aren't using it as much. It's the older generations. That trend has gentrified it quite a bit."

The younger generations like Twitter because it tends to be more free from the prying eyes of parents and grandparents. But many adults also use the service for fast news or to build communities around TV shows or other interests.

"Twitter is sort of the 25- to 45-year-old middle demographic," Bledsoe said.

Twitter began as a text-based service, restricting users to 140 characters per tweet to briefly state their message or participate in a conversation. But like other services, Twitter is transforming into something more sophisticated, Hoshino said.

"Because images and photos are kind of the trend on Twitter now, the service has adapted to showing photos in people's feeds," Hoshino said. "That's something new. I find myself missing words now and just seeing pictures. And the folks who are hard-core Twitter users from the past? They're mostly against that."

The change, however, is nice for visually oriented people like Hoshino, who said he also enjoys Instagram and Pinterest because of their photography focus.

"Pinterest, that's my favorite," Hoshino said. "I'm a visual guy. I use it all the time, although there aren't many Vancouver folks on there."

Pinterest is sort of a do-it-yourself site, with photographic tutorials on cooking, crafting and other hobbies. In general, there are more women on the site than men, although the focus continues to broaden, Bledsoe said.

"It's very crafty, wedding centric, recipe centric," Bledsoe said. "Although we're seeing more remodeling and things like that popping up now."

Reddit is also somewhat of a do-it-yourself news site where users post content, comment on and then rate others' posts. It doesn't have a large audience here, and while the topic range is very broad on the service, it's also a bit hard to navigate, Hoshino said.

"I'm not a big Reddit fan," Hoshino said. "It's like Craigslist. The site's very wonky. It looks very 1980s. It's very geeky."

Instagram, the photo-sharing service that Facebook bought in 2012, can also be a little difficult to figure out. It's popular with the visual set and also with kids, who share and comment on each other's pictures.

"There's a lot of creatives here in Vancouver that use Instagram and post pictures around town," Hoshino said. "And Instagram and Facebook work well together."

Instagram isn't a very broad service, although it has widened into letting users post short videos along with images. And it's not the easiest place to find a community, Bledsoe said.

For that service — and for information on Twitter — she recommends searching for hashtagged words such as #ClarkWa and #VanWa for local information about Clark County or Vancouver.

Vine is another simple video-sharing service that lets users make and post 6-second-long clips. The service was gaining traction, but now that Instagram provides similar functions it's not doing quite as well, the two experts said.

Foursquare is also a service that may be on the way out, they said.

Foursquare lets users post their location, pictures and recommendations for things to do at that location.

"I was a huge fan when they first came out with that a few years ago," Hoshino said. "Businesses had a lot of specials on there. If I went to a conference, I could see who was around me. I think it's not too popular in Vancouver anymore though. It's just too much. And Facebook added a feature that does the same thing recently."

Bledsoe said she still likes to use it when traveling to find tips for restaurants, because the recommendations come from the community and not from the businesses. But overall she agrees the service is on its way out.

For the professional crowd, there's LinkedIn, which works like an electronic business card.

"It's really a great tool to look for professional partners in the community," Hoshino said. "That's where they store their résumés and professional information."

But that said, it's not a great place for socializing.

"There's not a lot of interaction on there but there is a lot of business information," Bledsoe said.

Google Plus is a bit of a social media dark horse. The company designed it to be a competitor for Facebook, but it hasn't gained much traction outside of the computer nerd set, Hoshino said.

"A lot of early adopters went there," Hoshino said. "Here in Vancouver though, I don't know anyone on there. As a social platform I hardly use it."

Bledsoe said she likes some of Google Plus' video features, such as Hangout, which is a service that lets users teleconference or record videos for later use.

Still, it's not enough to overturn the massive dominance of Facebook. Nor are any of the other services, Bledsoe said.

"People periodically say they're going to leave Facebook, but they always come crawling back," she said. "It's so dominant and so widely used that it's hard to not be on it."