Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is social media biased?

I read about a women's electric vehicle team at the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. I thought it was interesting, and used Shareaholic to post it to Twitter and Facebook.

Here's what appeared on my Facebook timeline:

Notice anything? Facebook defaulted to the second image on the RIT news story, showing the men's team. The women's team (see the second screen shot below), while visible in the original story, wasn't promoted when shared via social media.

Why did the second photo appear in my timeline, and not the first?

There may be a coding trick or algorithm that easily explains this occurrence. I'd love to hear more about it.

But from my side of the screen -- the side most of us see -- this feels a bit biased. Men in engineering? Run the image. Women in engineering? Not interested.

Which is baloney. Especially if the women aren't getting equal recognition. If Facebook arbitrarily selects photos of people in bright orange clothing, this is good news for RIT (orange is a team color), the Cincinnati Bengals, and first responders. If Shareaholic or Facebook opts for males over women, that's another issue. 

(For me, orange coveralls say: airport ground crew workers, or Battlestar Galactica deck crew personnel. But, I digress.)

As a PR person, what are your options?

The more intriguing news angle, for me, is the women's team. So I'd create a single web story focused on the women's team, and only use one photo. This gives Shareaholic  and Facebook fewer decisions to make. There'd be only one photo, and that's what they'd promote.

The men's team story could have a separate page and photo, and a link on each story's page would promote the other team.

This circles back to a basic tenet of PR writing: "Leave the reader with one new idea he or she didn't have before. Not two. Not five. One new idea."

In today's short-attention-span media space, trying to pack more than one idea into a story -- let alone multiple images -- isn't always the best solution. Especially as we count on social media to carry our stories along.