iStrategyBlabs

The Good, Bad, and In-Between of Social Media In Crisis Situations

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For better or for worse, social media has dramatically impacted the way we communicate and keep in touch with each other and the world at large. Also for better or for worse, it has given us the means to communicate more — and often more effectively — in crisis situations.

The Good.

Individuals in crisis situations can use social media in a number of different ways. Perhaps the most obvious is to say “I’m okay.” While status updates are often jokingly associated with mundane life updates or more seriously associated with significant life announcements, in the wake of a terror attack or natural disaster taking a second to write “I’m okay” on social is an incredibly quick and easy way to relieve your friends and family from worry. Facebook has taken this use case to the next level by releasing Facebook Safety Check – an update that allows Facebook to ask if you’re okay when a natural disaster occurs in your city. If you are ok, it sends out a status update that says, “I’m safe.”

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When the Boston Marathon bomber attacked, the Boston Police utilized social media to communicate with the public. Moreover, the police and FBI utilized social media to recruit the public to help find the suspect. Following the bombings, the Boston Police released a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Twitter. They then tweeted the possible license plate of the suspect. A subreddit started to populate clues and, while often misguided, the social media audience transformed into a, perhaps too-responsive, tip line. They used the general public to crowdsource information and assistance in finding the bomber.

Social media has also been used to effectively spread important safety information during crisis. When the power went out during Hurricane Sandy, people turned to social media for updates. News stations utilized social to communicate important safety information before the storm and in its aftermath. And during the initial period of the Ebola outbreak, the hashtag #EbolaFacts was used to inform citizens without knowledge of Ebola in danger areas on how it is spread and how to avoid contracting the disease.

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The Bad.

Social media has also had some negative impact during crisis.

For starters, people on social are often wrong. There is no truth filter, so if you rely on a stream of people’s opinions and misinformation as your news source, it’s not 100% reliable. The subreddit determining the Boston Marathon bomber falsely accused the wrong person of being the suspect, resulting in a family with a missing child being wrongfully targeted. A random man told everyone on Twitter that the NYSE had flooded during Sandy. False. In fact, a false GoFundMe page was set up for the fallen soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, in Canada after the Ottawa shooting. Despite this, studies have shown that while social media does spread both true and false statements during crisis, it then quashes the false ones and promotes the true ones – in other words, it often rectifies itself.

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Social posts intending to be helpful or to announce the user’s safety, can also unintentionally reveal information that can endanger others. On October 22nd, as the hunt for the gunman in Ottawa took place, individuals in Parliament Hill were on lockdown live tweeting the events as they unfolded. While they were intending to simply reveal their own safety and keep the public informed, they also publicized police and personal locations while an active terrorist was on the loose.

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Social media can also sensationalize crisis. Ebola has become one of the most talked about and feared topics of recent history. Yet, it is not the biggest threat to our lives. This has spurred a number of articles with veering degrees of sarcasm showing threats to our lives that are greater than Ebola, compared to social media and news coverage. Apparently there are a lot.

Sensationalization also resulted in Malaysia Airlines receiving a massive blow to their public perception heavily influenced by users posting pictures of empty flights and short lines following the loss of two commercial airplanes (Flight 370 and MH17).

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The In-Between.

Some things are just different now. Maybe they are good, maybe they’re really bad, it’s hard to tell — but they are definitely different. The ease at which images and video can be spread has allowed for violent and crude visuals to be effortlessly acquired straight from the frontlines of crisis and war. In Ukraine, the revolution in Odessa was live streamed. People could watch warfare, death, and despair from the safety of their homes.

A 16-year-old girl named Farah Baker in Gaza live tweeted from the war zone resulting in thousands of retweets. She openly discussed having lived through three wars with her 6-year-old sister and parents. Whenever she fell silent for periods between tweets, concern grew that something had happened to Farah. Twitter users waited for her updates to ensure her safety.

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The Question.

What is still abundantly clear is that social media is now a living breathing part of every major crisis from natural disasters to acts of terrorism. In fact, according to MIS Quarterly and PsychCentral, “Twitter has become the leading social reporting tool to report eyewitness accounts and share information about disasters, terrorist attacks, and social crises.” Technology is constantly changing the way we live and interact. The question is, what’s next?

Meet Dorothy: Click Your Heels To Summon An Uber, Call Your Phone, Or Text Your Friends!

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Have you ever been stuck in an awkward situation, praying your phone would ring so you could politely extract yourself?  Of course you have.  That’s why we made Dorothy, a physical trigger that makes any dumb shoe smart. Dorothy consists of the “Ruby” (a small connected device that slips into your shoe) and a mobile App that allows you to trigger a call to your phone from a fake contact (your “boss”) whenever you tap your heels together 3 times. Dorothy can also send text messages to your contacts with a custom message and your current location, letting them know exactly where you are. Soon, we’ll be working toward summoning an Uber. What else can Dorothy do?  You tell us… we’re just getting started! See it in action here:

Dorothy from iStrategyLabs on Vimeo.

How It Works:

Dorothy is powered by the LightBlue Bean, an Arduino micro-controller with a built in Bluetooth chip, accelerometer, and coin cell battery. Simply clip the “Ruby” into your shoe, connect it to the Dorothy iPhone App, and select your desired action after a successful trigger (3 heel clicks). The onboard accelerometer sends a signal to your phone via Bluetooth (listening for spikes in the data over a short period of time).

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The App: The iOS application was built in Objective-C and uses the Bean iOS SDK. Using AFNetworking we contact a small Node server that hits the Twilio API to trigger the appropriate action (a call to your phone or a text to your friends).

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Components: The Ruby consists of three main components, the 3D printed housing, a laser cut acrylic faceplate, and the LightBlue Bean. The Ruby’s housing was modeled using a CAD program and designed to mimic the naturally occurring facets of a gemstone, while maintaining a compact form factor (currently measuring 1.35” x 0.88” x 0.35”).

(NOTE: While this is our initial prototype — we’re currently exploring models as small as 1/3rd of its current size, potentially built into an insole…).

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Fabrication: The Ruby’s housing was 3D printed and carefully finished to remove any ridges and imperfections. Self-setting rubber (Sugru) was then pressed through the stenciled logo on the front face of the enclosure, adding additional color and tactility. The LightBlue Bean was placed inside the housing and covered with a thin laser-etched acrylic faceplate, and finally, a flexible clip was attached.

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What’s next? While in the near future we’ll be able to trigger actions like ordering an Uber to your geo-coordinates, or automatically order your favorite pizza — we’d love to hear your ideas. Let us know the most exciting actions/outputs and we just might make you a custom Dorothy of your very own… HOLLER AT US!

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UPDATE as of 10/29/14:

Since its release, Dorothy has been featured on some of the biggest news shows including: NPR, The Today Show, The Meredith Vieria Show.  You can view those clips below. Stay tuned for a live demo on Good Morning America on 10/30/14!


DoubleTree App Redesign: Behind The Scenes

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DoubleTree Hotels first approached us in 2013 to redesign Home & Away, their app that acts as a concierge for business travelers staying at DoubleTree properties. When we initially looked into redesigning the app, we wanted to stay close to the core strategy.

The concept is simple: tell the app which bank, gas station, coffee shop, pharmacy, rental car, etc. that you, as an individual, prefer, and the app will effortlessly map your brand preferences around your hotel.

That core mission has stayed the same, but DoubleTree enlisted us to redesign the app once again this year based on updates to iOS. After research, design, and user testing, we were able to completely revamp the app with added functionality and a greatly improved user experience. The following is a look at the key features we updated.  You can also head over to the app store to check it out.DoubleTree iOS7 iPad App Design

The Map

The original app featured a map with an omnipresent sidebar allowing the user to select their favorite brands for each of the available categories (banks, pharmacies, etc). Once selected, the app will remember your favorite brands no matter which hotel you’re searching from. For the redesign, we wanted to make the map even larger — after testing it was revealed that the main area of interaction was the map, and we were losing a lot of space to the wood-grain texture. We designed a slide-away tray that is accessible from the icon menu, hiding the brand favorites tray when not in use, creating a more immersive experience. We’ve also pulled in search results from Yelp, so if  users are looking for something that’s not featured in one of the sidebar categories, they’re able to search the map for anything they can dream up. DoubleTree iOS7 iPad App Design

The Styling

The wood grain was warm and inviting, but took up a large amount of real estate on the main map screen. During the redesign we were able to take advantage of the advances made in increased interface familiarity, removing the wood texture and skeuomorphic buttons in favor of a minimally-styled side and top bar. We also added a plethora of animations to the app to enhance the character of an otherwise lightly designed interface. To display the favorites bar, the user swipes their finger to the right on an icon. You can check out all of these new features by downloading the app today.

DoubleTree iOS7 Updates from iStrategyLabs on Vimeo.

The Size

One of our client’s goals was to reduce the size of the app, which in its original version featured images of each of their  370+ hotels in 32 countries across 6 continents, leading to a gigantic app. Size is a huge factor in apps, because large apps lead to longer download times. We removed the images from the app, reducing the size from about 300MB to just 30mb. DoubleTree iOS7 iPad App Design

This decision mainly impacted the hotel selector screen, because the first version of the app each hotel was shown with its own photos. The photos looked beautiful, but were not a necessity for the app experience. In the new version, the hotel selector screen has been reworked to allow the content to come to the forefront. DoubleTree iOS7 iPad App Design

The Hotel Selector

The hotel selector screen has been changed dramatically as well. On scroll, the title bar fades away and the hotel tiles take over the screen, featuring a slight color fade as the rows of hotels slide by. Our hypothesis was that users are not interested in photos of the hotel. Presumably, users are already staying at a DoubleTree hotel; when they’re scrolling, they’re looking for a specific hotel location. Listing the hotels alphabetically and offering a pleasing color fade allows the user to scroll at will and without distraction. The app also offers a search based on text or current location. DoubleTree iOS7 iPad App Design

Testing & Iteration

In early rounds of testing, we realized that users were confused about the goal of the app, especially in relation to the DoubleTree brand. We recognized this as a huge problem, and came up with an elegant two-fold solution to teach our users about the benefits of the app. When the app is launched, the user is met with a welcome screen, a short description of the app, and a large button that entices them to “explore” the map. When they enter the map view for the first time, they’ll see a brief three part tutorial, complete with an animation. The tutorial explains how to use the app and then drops off the screen. In our second round of testing, we saw that although the tutorial worked well for some, about half the users swiped through the tutorial without reading it and were still confused. So, we added one last cue to help our eager users — a one-time interface hint that pops up to guide the user through their first interactions in the app. They can tap the bubble to be walked through the action, or perform the action on their own to get rid of the cue. Our last round of testing was highly successful. All of our cues did the trick, and users were having a great time navigating around the app. The animations were a big hit, delivering a surprise dose of fun for people who might otherwise not be so happy (if they’re on a business trip).

Check out the app in the App Store today!

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The Facebook “Mentions Box” Goes Live At The Emmy Awards

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Facebook, already the biggest brand in social media, was looking for a better way to bridge the gap between celebrities and fans, specifically at live events. Behold: The Facebook “Mentions Box” which just debuted at the 2014 Emmy’s — allowing celebrities to “shake” the device to surface a fan question (pulling directly from the event’s Facebook Page) and immediately record a video response back.

At the Emmys, the Mentions Box was used by everyone from Jimmy Fallon, to Matthew McConaughey, to Ty Burrell and Jason Biggs — to stars from Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, and HBO’s Silicon Valley (see below!).

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After many discussions, brainstorms, and rapid prototyping efforts focused on how to best represent the Facebook platform in physical space, we landed on a simple concept drawing inspiration from mediums people already know and enjoy (landing on something between a Magic 8-Ball in function and an Etch-A-Sketch in form).

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Ultimately, we settled on a tablet encased in a polycarbonate form factor, with a luxury car finish.

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We started the process by concepting potential types of physical devices that talent would be able to easily (and quickly) interact with — using cardboard and simple materials to play around with various form factors.

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The admin console (primarily a question moderation tool) sources questions from specific Facebook posts and then pushes approved questions straight to The Facebook Mentions Box.

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Leading up to the Emmy’s, The Mentions Box was featured on Access Hollywood by hosts Billy Bush and Shaun Robinson:

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More pics of the Mentions Box in action, straight from the Access Hollywood Facebook Page!

 

 

 

 


Update
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On September 5th, Facebook teamed up with Stand Up To Cancer to utilize the Mentions Box to connect celebrities with donors supporting the live charity event.

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Creating a Logo for ContraryCon

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This Saturday, ISL will be putting on a free web conference entitled ContraryCon. The half-day event, kicking off at noon at 1776, will consist of a series of presentations in which speakers will present ideas in opposition to the popularly accepted trends in interactive design and development.

When I joined ISL in May, one of my first projects involved working on a logo mark for the conference as well as subsequent branding along with several other new hires (James, Rebecca, and Alyssa). Each of us was tasked with creating several logos on our own before coming together for group design team critiques.

The final logo mark, a criss-crossing “X” formed by back-to-back C’s, came from many personal iterations trying to explore the idea of contrarian views that would be expressed at the conference. Here’s a quick look at what went into crafting a mark for a contrary conference.

Many Many Iterations

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Although the end logo may look sleek and simple, there were many different iterations that went into crafting the final crossing C’s. Between three designers, we ended up with 20+ different ideas of logomarks and typefaces before coming to the final product.

Just on my own, I explored concepts ranging from a canary in a coal mine (both a bird meant to warn workers and a song off of The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta) to the idiom of the black sheep (“used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially in a family” – thank you Wikipedia) to a take on the clichéd speech bubble representing debate. All of my ideas were focused on ideas that go against the grain, offer debate, and seek attention. Unfortunately, they were all also a bit of a stretch when it came down to what they meant.

Shuffling Up the Conversation

 

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The end goal of ContraryCon is to encourage attendees rethink how and why they work. Our amazing panel of speakers will be arguing for and against trends in design and technology. In essence, they’ll be mixing up the stale and complacent conversation so many of us are having every day.

This idea of remixing our thought process lead me to think of the shuffle icon. A simple cross of curved lines, the icon has come to represent the mixing of content. In the case of ContraryCon, words, ideas, and speeches will be shuffled and rethought.

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What started as the everyday shuffle icon became a simplified cross, symbolizing a warning – a call for attention. Above you can see just a few of the many iterations on this simple shuffle idea that lead to the final deliverable.

The End Product

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In the end, my final cross was paired with Norwester, a typeface chosen and slightly modified by James. Not only that, but our small team fleshed out a variety of collateral that will be displayed throughout the conference venue.

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If you’re in the DC area this Saturday, make sure to come out and and get contrarian! For any more info on the event, check out the ContraryCon site.