Don’t look now, Twitter: The world is turning to WhatsApp for news

Remember when Twitter was everything? It’s still got more than 320 million monthly active users, but it’s no longer the hot social media platform. While Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continued to grow between 2012 and 2015, Twitter stagnated starting in 2014 (Pew Research Center).

RELATED: 24 slightly depressing stats on the ‘fall’ of Twitter

I recently heard a colleague describe Twitter as a kind of “echo chamber,” for journalists, pundits, news junkies and assorted fans of assorted sports teams and pop culture icons.

Hello, WhatsApp.

Source: WikiMedia Commons
When I spent six months in Belize last year, I began using WhatsApp to send free messages and make free phone calls to family and friends in the U.S. I also found that Belizeans use WhatsApp quite heavily to message and talk to each other within the country.

If you are unfamiliar with WhatsApp, here are the basics:

So, now you’re asking: How does WhatsApp, which sounds like a utility, qualify as a social media platform? How do people get news from such an app?

Percentage of people using each service at least once a week


Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

While in Belize, I was invited to join a WhatsApp group called Newz@Ur Finga Tipz. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was intrigued. Soon, I saw that the curators and users of the group were sharing details about car accidents, severe weather (flooding and tropical storm activity especially), missing persons, and other tidbits that you might normally expect news outlets to report.


In Belize, where newsrooms are not always staffed to keep ahead of breaking and developing news (especially on weekends), Newz@Ur Finga Tipz was delivering information in a timely fashion to a group of “subscribers,” if you will. There were rumors bandied about, but the group’s curators and members took pains to debunk and/or confirm and then spread the news.

My job in Belize involved public relations and marketing for the nation’s leading cultural and historical institutions, including the Maya archaeological sites around the country that provide employment for Belizeans and draw tourists and researchers in (for Belize) huge numbers.

In the wake of August 2016’s Hurricane Earl, I jumped on Newz@Ur Finga Tipz as one channel for providing updates on which archaeological sites were closed due to storm damage, and which other venues (e.g. the Museum of Belize and Bliss Center for the Performing Arts) had been affected by the hurricane.

In Belize, WhatsApp is free way to inform and communicate, but the platform is even more widely used for sharing news and views in other countries–countries where tweeting or posting a news item could get you into trouble with government officials, religious authorities and others with the power to make lives uncomfortable.

Just take a read about how China has WhatsApp in its censorship sights.

WhatsApp is private. So, as long as you know and trust people you connect with, it’s a safe means for connecting.

For its latest Digital News Report, the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism worked with YouGov to survey people in across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The study was sponsored by the BBC and Google among others. A total of 71,805 people were questioned in January and February to generate the data.

Key findings

  • Facebook is still the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries – Japan and South Korea – where, respectively, YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.
  • Sharing news stories and chatting about them appears to be on the rise within private instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular.
  • WhatsApp is now the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations, and the third most popular platform in a further five countries.

“Some of the biggest growth we’ve seen is in places like Turkey, where it’s positively dangerous for people to express anti-government preferences on open networks like Facebook…. As a result people are using closed groups where they are more confident of expressing their views.” — Nic Newman, Digital News Report

Another attractive quality of WhatsApp is that content is not selected by journalists. The gatekeepers are WhatsApp users. According to a BBC article about the Digital News Report, some news organizations are trying to jump on the WhatsApp bandwagon (of course), but: “….part of WhatsApp’s appeal is that users don’t get interrupted by brands, making it a very pure form of messaging. That’s something [its developers] will really try to hold to.”

Here’s a look at WhatsApp usage in many countries (Percentage of YouGov respondents who report using WhatsApp on a weekly basis)


Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

The Digital News Report survey did not include Africa (which is odd), but guess what? WhatsApp is huge there.

Facebook and WhatsApp

Wondering how Facebook feels about the rise of WhatsApp? The world’s dominant social network acquired the hot, new upstart in 2014. Now, naturally, Facebook is looking to monetize the app, so it will be interesting to see how that works out–given that WhatsApp users may be flocking to the service because it’s devoid of advertising and other money-making features.

Stay tuned.



Pageant-ing in Belize: 5 things to consider before you don your sash

What must it be like to be a beauty pageant contestant in Belize in the age of social media? When I was pageant-ing in 1986, there was no way for members of the public to instantly criticize me and share that criticism with hundreds–even thousands of other people. I heard very few negative comments; I suppose my friends and family shielded me. The few I did hear were baffling as well as dismaying.

So, I salute the ten contestants in this year’s Miss Belize Universe Pageant, whose pageant month was full of public appearances and opportunities to be scrutinized.

Yours truly with my predecessor–and friend–Romy Taegar! Circa November 1986.

Congratulations to Rebecca Rath of Dangriga! She is the newest Miss Belize and will represent us at the Miss Universe Pageant. Watch as she won on Sept. 10, 2016!

If I were to provide advice to young women about whether to enter a beauty pageant in Belize, here are a few items I would ask potential contestants to consider.

  1. Do you know what it feels like to lose? I suspect young women who know what this feels like will be able to face what’s coming. So, if you have competed before (e.g. in sports, academically, in other kinds of contests) and survived defeat with your ego intact, that is a point in favor of entering a pageant.
  2. Do you know how it feels to win? This is important because the minute you triumph you will become a magnet for people who want to be in your life, for better and worse. Being a gracious and humble winner can go a long way in keeping your ego intact.
  3. Is your support system strong and absolutely on board? Any ambivalence in the people closest to you can lead to self-doubt. Your friends and family love you, but they may not see entering a pageant as something they want you to do. Also, a ride-or-die crew will make sure you have the resources you need: They’ll help you find sponsors, be your cheering section, and remind you that you’re awesome no matter what happens.
  4. Are you confident? Confidence is not the same as courage. In my mind, courage gets you through something you may not believe you can actually survive. Confidence means that no matter what happens in the pageant, you’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll shed a few disappointed tears, but you won’t be shattered.
  5. What happens next? Do you have a plan to get on with your life, win or lose?

Would I do it again? Yes. I won a college scholarship (as did the 2016 winner, Rebecca Rath). I traveled to Singapore, Europe and all around Belize. I was probably too young; at age 17, my ego was fragile and the Miss Universe experience was overwhelming. Still, no regrets.

Rebecca Rath (holding the water bottle, wearing black dress) joins her fellow Miss Belize delegates for lunch at Cafe Michel’le in Belize City.

Follow Rebecca’s road to Miss Universe on Facebook!

#ROFL: Vine and Twitter are making me laugh so hard I can’t even stand it

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 11.52.00 AMJudging by the number of social media posts about how to maximize, leverage, and optimize social media it’s fair to say that we take social media very seriously.

That’s why I am thankful to the people who find time to create parody accounts on Twitter and produce exquisitely funny six-second videos on Vine.

Here are my favorite Twitter parody handles, in no particular order:

@PrinceTweets2U – Samples: “excuse me but purple is the new black” and “i am the royal baby i am prince”

@ShakespeareSong – Sample: “Halt, the hammer of time is upon us” and “Frozen water, frozen water, infant”

@SeinfeldToday – Samples: “Jerry’s vacation’s ruined by the stress of avoiding Breaking Bad spoilers. Elaine’s never seen the show, ruins a viewing party w/questions” and “Jerry & George discover Kramer’s the subject of an insane number of Craigslist missed connections. Elaine gets a pixie cut. It’s disastrous.”

@DangItObama – Samples: “I don’t get Labor Day off.. THANKS OBAMA. ” and “Miley Cyrus. Thanks Obama.”

@PRISM_NSA – Samples “Our intelligence indicates that Obama is late for his Syria speech because Candy Crush Saga.” and “30 years ago today this was the #1 song in America. It’s still #1 at the NSA Every Breath You Take”

And over on Vine…

The thing that’s great about comedy on Vine is that creating it requires a lot more than six seconds to think out before you actually start rolling.

And, Vine is making stars out of every day people who have a knack for tapping into the hilarity of the things we do every day. Many of them have an insane number of followers, and advertisers are taking notice.

For example, a young Frenchman named Jerome Jarre has 2.1 million followers on Vine. He specializes in hugging strangers in New York City and other antics that perhaps only a foreigner could get away with in the Big Apple. Recently, I saw that General Electric featured Jarre and his buddy Marcus Johns (2.5 million followers) in a Vine to advertise something called the Apple Drop.

Rudy Mancuso (1.7 million followers) was recently featured in a Trident Gum Vine post, along with Nicholas Megalis (2.6 million followers). One of the best Rudy posts is a collaboration with King Bach (2.2 million followers). It’s a rap that goes like this:

Bach: “I’m lovin’ New York City…”

Mancuso: “But you know I love it bigger…”

Bach: “I’m chillin’ with my Cuban…”

Mancuso: “And I’m chillin’ with my…. African-American”

One of my favorite Vine celebs is Alphacat (1.1 million followers), who does a spot on impression of President Obama (dancing, tapping our phones). Another good person to follow is QPark (about 625,000 followers), whose schtick includes “Sudden Rachet Syndrome.”

Among the relatively few truly hilarious female Vine celebs is Simone Shepherd (959,000 followers) whose “How to handle those friends who…” skits are classics! She has a real flair for nailing the above referenced quotidian elements of life.

Silly? Perhaps. But you’ll thank me on those days when instead of shaking your head over a post that would have been best left unposted, you instead find yourself #ROFL. You’re welcome.

Every dog has its day and now so can you: 10 steps to your own special celebration

This post is for entertainment purposes only. Does not imply an endorsement of setting up your own day.

It seems like every cause, organization, food, drink, hobby, etc. now has a its very own day. There are many that most people can agree are worthy of a special place on our calendar: Earth Day on April 22, for example. Here are a few you may not have heard of:

So, what’s to stop you or me from establishing our very own day? There is an official procedure for doing so, which involves an act of Congress. But, why bother? You can declare your very own special day.

Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.
Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a day. It’s a good idea to find a day that’s not already taken. See the website to find a good one. Cost: Free. (I was sorry to learn that Aug. 6, my birthday, is already taken. It’s Wiggle Your Toes Day, origins unknown).
  2. Start a blog about your day. Do this a few months ahead of time so you can build up some buzz. Cost: Free
  3. Begin your social media campaign. Create a Facebook Page and Twitter account to get the word out and spark some engagement. Consider Instagram if your day involves something visual. For example: Your Instagram account for Nail Polish Day (there isn’t such a day yet, as far as I can tell) might feature photos of different colors of nail polish. Cost: Whatever you’d like to spend on supplies for your nails.
  4. Consider setting up a YouTube channel and posting videos. For example, you painting your nails or interviews with experts (like your favorite nail salon owner). Cost: Free, if you at least have a smart phone. Otherwise, borrow gear from a friend or consider investing in some basic equipment.
  5. Create a Wikepedia entry for your day. Cost: Free
  6. Consider hosting a launch party to which your nearest and dearest are invited. Since they presumably love–or at least like–you, they are potential evangelists for your special day. Cost: You might want to buy snacks and refreshments.
  7. Host a meetup. This is a great chance to assemble random people who share your obsession (nail polish, for example). They may also become evangelists. Cost: Again, food and beverages are great incentives. In our nail polish example, you could also promise a free bottle to the first 10 people who show up.
  8. Write and send out press releases to the media. Your list should include specialty and trade outlets that might get excited about your obsession (say, nail polish). Cost: free
  9. Take the week leading up to your day off from work. This will free you up for interviews with the media and allow you devote as much time as you need to ramping up your social media efforts. Cost: If you get paid by the hour, it’s a big sacrifice. If you are salaried, you’ll use up paid time off. Probably worth it, though.
  10. Enjoy your day! And, start ramping up for next year.

Related reading:

Use your words (and photos): One journalist’s month in social media and grammar

The Poynter Institute is the leading go-to training and ideas hub for journalism. So, I was pretty pleased and proud when Joe Grimm, the “Ask the Recruiter” guru for Poynter, asked me to take part in a live chat about social media and communities.


Like many journalists and others who spend a great deal of time in and around social media, I’ve been a participant in live online chats. This was my first time actually playing the role of question-answerer. Along with Mallary Tenore, managing editor of, Joe and I got started at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15. It was fun!


In other news…

Here are a few interesting, quirky and useful items I’ve come across this month:

  1. Poloroid’s Fotobar Stores Will Let You Print Photos from Your Phone ( Interesting to see Poloroid making a play for a slice of the digital pie in this way. The Fotobars will let people come in and print digital photos stored on their phones–and not just on paper. I predict a great many “selfies” coming to life as questionable art via materials like metal, acrylic, wood, bamboo and canvas.
  2. How the World Consumes Social Media ( Who knew that Bangkok has more Facebook users than any other city in the world? Also, the United Kingdom is the only country where men outnumber women on Pinterest. 
  3. 100 Amazing Social Media Statistics, Facts and Figures ( For anyone seeking a primer on just how our most popular social media platforms stack up, this is a great one-stop shop.
  4. Have your say: The best and worst words and phrases of 2012 ( Speaking of the word “selfie” (see #1 above), it’s a term I learned just this month, as various organizations put out the call for Americans to nominate the best and worst words phrases of 2012. I love these lists, because the vocabulary of any given 12 months is often emblematic with our culture, obsessions, and outrages. Also to love, The American Dialect Association encouraged us to submit nominations via social media.

Be yourself: 5 social media rules from your mother

New school, high school dance, first date, college, job interview. You were nervous, and your mother would say, “Just be yourself. You’ll be great!”

(Picture her smoothing down a stray hair or straightening your tie).

She was not talking about the you who left dirty clothes on the floor, broke curfew, got a bad grade, moaned about chores, talked back, or generally got up to no good. She was talking about your very best self: the one that exemplified the attributes she most admired in her own offspring, not to mention the home training she worked so hard to instill.

Check out my "Mama Said" playlist on Spotify!
Check out my “Mama Said” playlist on Spotify!

I think the exhortation–along with its implicit directives–holds lessons for life in digital age.

1 – Count to ten. Before you post that screed about whatever is ticking your off to your Facebook timeline or shoot off an email tirade, take a breather to consider the consequences. I once advised an employee who was prone to vent electronically to write the angry email, save it as a draft, and then go back later to see if he still felt he should send it.

2 – Do unto others. I see this from time to time on Twitter: 140 snarky and harsh characters from one Tweep and a response in kind from another. First Tweep takes umbrage. Second Tweep RTs the offending Tweets to the world. The Golden Rule is especially golden in the 21st Century.

3 – Keep in clean. Do not use naughty words. Think about your reputation before you share photos that show you in a scandalous light. Remember: your best efforts to control privacy settings aside, content you share might be seen by people you never imagined.

4 –  Share and share alike. Get beyond using social media for New Age navel gazing. Sure, some of your friends might want to know you just had the best sandwich ever. They might like it even better if you share interesting articles and information that relates to their lives. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when a friend shares a memory like an awesomely bad eighties music video that we once loved or a photo from high school. Even those happy birthday Facebook (HBD, for those who don’t have time to type out the words) posts are appreciated!

5 – If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. In case you hadn’t noticed, social media has evolved way past a fun, consequence-free way to play around on your computer. From time to time, conversations get heated. Things are said that cannot be unsaid. On a very basic level, some people find they simply don’t like the exposure that an active social media life comes with. Or, perhaps, there are platforms you simply don’t find useful or interesting. No one is forcing you to join the club.

And how about these? They are extensions of the five rules above and worth thinking about:

Don’t run with a bad crowd.

Set a good example for others.

Do your homework.

Try it: It might actually taste good.

Some things are private.

We all make mistakes.

You mother wanted you to be happy, loved, and–to quote Oprah–live your best life. She told you life is not fair, you can’t always have your own way, and challenges and disappointments will come. Remember: She was right.

Customer service woes? Tweet and win!

It’s part of life in modern times: the dreaded appointment to get new cable and Internet service.

I say dreaded because this inevitably involves waiting for a technician who may arrive at any point within a two to six hour window, often toward the end of said window. (Talk about #firstworldproblems).

So, imagine my delight when the Time Warner Cable rep I spoke with said a technician would arrive on a Wednesday, “between 10 and 11 a.m.” I even got a warm and fuzzy feeling. “People in Cincinnati know their  stuff,” I told myself.

Wednesday arrives

10:55 a.m. I am not unduly concerned as the hour nears 11 a.m. I believe.

11:05 I begin to stop believing and call customer service. A polite woman says she’s sending messages to my technician and the dispatcher. Someone will call me within 30 minutes to let me know his “ETA.” I’ll be getting a $20 credit for the missed appointment.

11:35 I am a non-believer. Not a word from the technician. I call customer service again. Another polite woman allegedly sends messages to the technician and dispatcher again.

11:43 I find Time Warner Cable on Twitter: @TWCableHelp.

11:45 To my amazement, @TWCableHelp Tweets back. I send my phone number and a beautiful friendship begins.

12:05 I get a call from another customer service person who tells me I should “hear something” by 1 p.m. Steam begins to pour out of my ears.

12:09 I Tweet again. Keeping it classy, I restrain myself from asking, “Is there only one technician working today?”

12:23 This response features a word that brings me great comfort: “escalation.”

12:30 A technician calls to say he’s on the way. He is at great pains to let me know he’s not my original tech. He’s a contractor named Ben who turns out to be awesome.

12:36 My next Tweet to @TWCableHelp. Note the hashtag. I also send a “thank you” Tweet. I give credit where credit is due.

(My ordeal was not over. Ben had some challenges getting my service installed and running, due to a very odd pre-existing configuration of cables and wires. Still, he got the job done).

Say what?

The experience reaffirmed something I tell folks who say they don’t do social media: “There’s a conversation going on. Don’t you won’t to be part of it?” If you have a business, you certainly do want to be part of it. An August 2012 article from shows that a startling number of Fortune 500 companies do not use social media for customer service.

“Companies don’t understand that social media is not just a marketing vehicle. They aren’t realizing that there needs to be a brand execution discussion.”

In the case of Time Warner Cable, failing to be in the mix would mean thousands of frustrated customers Tweeting about you and getting angrier by the minute as they fail to get satisfaction. On Wednesday, I discovered that Time Warner has earned the wrath of customers all over the country. In fact, the folks behind a Twitter account called @TWClassAction favorited my initial Tweet of complaint.

Responses from @TWCableHelp tend to come quickly, and almost all begin with “our apologies.” Tweets include specific questions, suggestions, tips, and–as in my case–promises of action.

Being part of the conversation allows Time Warner Cable to see what customers are saying about its services and products. Just as important, the company can demonstrate its commitment to customer service in a way no commercial or press release could ever do.

I have no way of knowing if Time Warner Cable always keeps its promises. In my case, it (eventually) did.

Read more:

From St. Louis to Cincinnati: Digital + broadcast + social media = my new job

Like the 2012 presidential candidates, I have my sights set on Ohio.

I am happy to announce that I will be joining Scripps at the company’s Cincinnati television station, WCPO –TV (ABC) in November. This position offers me the chance to combine my broadcast and digital news experience – not to mention social media, in which I’ve been known to dabble.

While Cincinnati is new to me, I am happy to say I have a few friends who live there. When I went for my interview, I was surprised to find a lovely scene: the Ohio River winding its way between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky; lots of trees, apartments and houses perched on bluffs, a glistening downtown and the contrast with historic Covington. WCPO itself sits in the Mt. Adams neighborhood near to Eden Park with its spectacular vistas.

After working solo since February–and, while I was with Patch, in various coffee shops, libraries and public places–I am actually looking forward to being in a newsroom again. The opportunity to collaborate with digital and broadcast professionals to deliver news and information, engage with the community, and innovate is exciting!

I will miss St. Louis, and with family members here, I will be visiting often—at least for a time. Next year, my parents will join my brother, Randall “Randy” Edgell, MD, and his family in Houston, where he has joined the University of Texas as a physician and faculty member.

One thing I won’t be leaving behind in St. Louis: That question, asked upon meeting someone new: “So, where did you go to high school?” People in Cincinnati ask it, too.

An old fogey already? Adoption of new tools may depend on your own digital age

An Internet cafe in Placencia, Belize. (by Holly Edgell, March 2011)

I consider myself somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to using and understanding social media, apps, the cloud, and a host of new tools. It can be hard to keep up with everything; life in the “digital space” often seems to move at warp speed.

I recently had a conversation with a new professional acquaintance about why people engage with particular social media and eschew others. This got me thinking: there are a few things I’ve opted not to invest time in, simply because I don’t find them rewarding or useful in my life and there are still only 24 hours in a day. Does this make me set in my ways? I am in fact…

…Already an old fogey in this digital age?

Instagram. I like viewing at other people’s vintage-looking snapshots, but I prefer my photos looking as true to life as possible. And I like using Facebook as a repository for my snapshots.

FourSquare. Becoming mayor of a restaurant or park or earning a cartoon-ish badge just don’t do anything for me. I am not even that motivated or jazzed by the idea of getting special offers by checking in at a particular eatery or shop. I do (selectively) check in via Facebook, which brings the inherent reward of knowing my mother and other loved ones like to know where I am at times.

Pinterest. In my late teens I clipped photos of perfume, clothing, cars, and other wish-list items out of magazines. I grew out of this pastime, which is why I think the idea of pinning things I dig by using this medium just doesn’t interest me.

Google+. I am there, but it’s not top of mind when it comes to social networking. My go-to platforms remain Facebook and Twitter, for better or worse. I am intrigued by the possibilities for engagement that the “hangouts” provide, but otherwise Google+ has not hooked me.

Why Facebook and Twitter?

Perhaps it’s as simple as: because they were there first (or at least early). Facebook, though sometimes frustrating, is a one-stop bulletin board cum archive for my life. Most of the people I care about are there, as are many professional contacts. I manage two Facebook Pages (Dateline: Belize and Casa Edgell) and have found great value in participating in Facebook Groups.

A friend of mine calls Twitter her personal news feed, and I like this description. I learn something every day from the articles and tidbits shared by people I follow, and I also enjoy passing on articles and tidbits. I use Twitter to “live blog” and provide updates as I cover stories. I can feel connected by engaging in conversations during times of historical and social moment (e.g. the political conventions, the death of Michael Jackson, the news of the Osama bin Laden takedown).

Twitter is also a great platform for promoting the work of bloggers and journalists, sharing kudos and shout outs for great work or contributions to community life, and information about events and happenings.

Speaking of articles and tidbits…

Here are a few interesting items I ran across this week on Twitter. I labeled them as “Favorites” in order to easily find the posts when I want to refer to them later, You’ll note that most come not from individual people, although that’s not always the case:

@Rocketboom shared an article and info graphic titled “YouTube’s Top 1,000 Channels Reveal An Industry Taking Shape”

@Knightfdn deservedly tooted its own horn in this item “Making local history digital, searchable and accessible.” It’s about a $1 million donation to the Digital Public Library of America.

Follow me on this one: @AEJMC posted an item about how Twitter can enhance the work of news outlets, posted on the Poynter Insitute website. The share is actually an excerpt of an interview of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo by Jeremy Hobson of the American Public Media program MarketplaceHere’s the full segment.

@BurtonBrown shared a funny info graphic called “The 10 Types of Social Media Addicts.” (For the record, I may be a blog referencer).

@FastCoLead pointed me to an article that’s very applicable to the work journalists, especially in the broadcast realm. It’s “Must-Tweet TV: How The Pioneers Of Social Television Turn Viewers Into VIPs”

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