Posts Tagged ‘post-dispatch’


The secret to success for early adopters

Early adopter(Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared at DKSheets.com.)

We all enjoy occasional trips along the cutting edge. Spurred by our adrenaline and excitement, these trips can lift moods and egos by suggesting that we’re smarter, faster, better than the masses.

Those who live by this routine are called early adopters, or “trendsetters.” They’re a step removed from innovators but enjoy the cachet of being first at anything.

They constitute a distinct population, whereas most of us prefer hanging with the masses and steering wide of the danger zone, because the comfort zone has lounge chairs and mini refrigerators.

But what if there seems no choice but to join the early adopters?

That was the feeling people had last week before flaws and a resulting wave of bad press beset two high-profile tech arrivals: Windows RT 8.1 and HealthCare.gov.

Both were supposed to address pressing national issues. Both were touted as easy fixes for those issues. And both went public after intense PR campaigns nudging the public toward early adoption.

Now, both are case studies for caution.

Windows RT 8.1, an operating system update released last Thursday, aimed to fix the balky, user-unfriendly Microsoft Windows 8 for tablet PCs. Less than two days later, RT was withdrawn from the free-download section of the Microsoft Store because of reports that it was rendering tablets unresponsive or inoperative.

HealthCare.gov, the official registration site for the Obama administration’s health care expansion, was promoted as an easy-open door to health care for millions of Americans without any. But it nearly drowned from a flood of applicants after going live Oct. 1, then suffered complaints that it was confusing and difficult to use.

Microsoft resumed Windows RT 8.1 downloads Sunday and showed dismayed users how to resurrect their failing tablets. Exactly what went wrong in the first place was not announced.

The federal government meanwhile says it will enlist “experts” to repair HealthCare.gov ― which sounds as if they weren’t already on board ― but time is against them; the deadline for millions of uninsured Americans to register is late March, and the site was supposed to handle much of the load.

Early adopters relish the exclusivity that being first provides. This emotional impulse puts these people out front and keeps them there.

But the impulse works two ways; a segment of the early adopter population simply seeks completion. Members vie for first place not to brag but to escape the crowd. Their comfort zones lack room for more than one person.

I was among them until becoming personal technology editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For six years, part of my job involved reviewing new devices and software before they went public and wrestling with whatever hardships ensued. The main benefit was that I learned how to fix computers and other gadgets without guidance, because sometimes the equipment was too new to have any.

The secondary benefit was an awareness of what it took to be a successful early adopter: research. Those who take risks at any level and count their success in bunches also prepare for failure to come just as often. They examine what precipitated innovation and see obstacles as challenges. They have read about other people’s mistakes, even interviewed the people who made them. They trade wisdom and warnings, share insights and incentives.

In short, they’re prepared to accept the pain just as much as the pleasure of early adoption.

Close observers of Microsoft understand that Windows has a history of quirkiness. That’s not necessarily a dig against Microsoft, rather an acknowledgement that computer operating systems are complex and difficult to perfect.

Web developers understand that any site meant to guide millions of visitors simultaneously through a maze of information by disparate and perhaps conflicting sources needs testing and re-testing before going live. That’s not necessarily an assault on HealthCare.gov’s creators, rather a reminder that huge sites require a huge amount of testing no matter whose name is on them.

In hindsight, it was smarter to wait on Windows RT 8.1 and hold off jumping into HealthCare.gov. So, next time you’re pressured to be an early adopter, consider looking back before taking the lead.

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David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Keep those tweets short and sweet

Kind of silly, huh, telling people to be brief on Twitter? After all, who can possibly wax wordy with only 140 total characters?

The answer: everyone.

It turns out that tweets using the full count are not as widely read as those running 20 to 40 characters less, public relations and social media analysts say. For one thing, Twitter is a scannable medium, something we can read in a glance. A simple sentence —  subject, verb, object and little else — registers with us faster than a sentence padded with adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. Those supplementary words may be good for grammar, but they can act like speed bumps on Twitter, slowing down our understanding of what’s said.

For another thing, the shorter the tweet, the more likely that followers will fill out the rest of the empty space behind it with ideas of their own, because the Twitterverse abhors a vacuum.

So, when you tweet, keep it short and sweet. But in striving to do this, make sure those tweets have one or more of these things:

At least one link — Web links make tweets valuable by providing more information than the tweet can do on its own. Readers see such tweets as portals to other places they may not already know about. The result: tweets with links are two to three times more likely to be read than tweets without them.

At least one “hashtag” — Prefaced with the pound sign (example: #SPJ), any word or string of connected words becomes a searchable element in Twitter. Hashtags are essential to search strings and topic lists, so including a tag greatly improves the chances that a tweet will turn up in searches by other Twitterers not already in your network.

A reference to at least one other Twitterer — Mentioning at least one other Twitterer fairly guarantees that tweet will trickle through said Twitterer’s network. That’s because social media is, at its heart, an ego-driven tool, and the more egos you massage, the more likely those egos will massage you in return.

A photograph — Social media is increasingly a visual experience, as the rapid rise of Pinterest and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram can attest. That’s why more photos have been appearing on Twitter via tools such as TwitPic. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or a thousand more than fit in a tweet. By some estimates, tweets with photos are five times more likely to be retweeted.

A full biography — There’s not much room to muse in Twitter’s bio space, either, but a concise self-description attracts other Twitterers as much as a well-reasoned or witty comment. Openness is attractive; people tend not to engage others on social media who avoid being forthcoming about themselves.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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